CARLSBAD — Having long opposed coastline power plants, Carlsbad city government took another step Dec. 2 toward that goal.
By extending a moratorium on power plants in the Coastal Zone and kicking off a project to identify the preferred uses of the Encina Power Plant property, the city is solidifying its stance that this land should be used for recreation, commercial and tourism uses unique to the coast.
The California Energy Commission, or CEC, is expected to hold the first round of hearings with commissioners in January and February, with a final decision to come from the commissioners late next year. If approved by the CEC, the proposed power plant would still need approval from the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the State Lands Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In September 2007, NRG submitted an Application for Certification to the California Energy Commission for a new power plant to be built on the nearly 100-acre coastal site currently occupied by the Encina Power Station. The proposed plant would generate 540 megawatts of power and consist of two 14-story smoke stacks two nine-story buildings.
The CEC has the authority to approve the new plant, not the city of Carlsbad. As such, the CEC would need to overrule the city to approve the new plant.
“It’s frustrating that the state can step in and force us to commit our precious coastline to another 50 years of industrial use when power plants no longer require ocean water for cooling,” Mayor Claude A. “Bud” Lewis said. “We can’t control the state, but we can do everything in our power to show them all the reasons this is a bad site for a power plant and not consistent with our community’s vision for this property.”
The city’s moratorium prohibits the expansion of any existing power plant and building new ones in the Coastal Zone, which includes the Encina Power Station property. The Coastal Zone is defined under the California Coastal Act and is under the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission.
The approval timeline for the new plant has been delayed nearly two years due to concerns raised by the city, including:
— Location: Power plants no longer need to be built near the ocean. Today’s modern air-cooled plants can be built anywhere, and more suitable locations for this project do exist.
— Safety: The new plant has serious safety concerns. Carlsbad’s own fire marshal has raised concerns about the city’s ability to provide adequate fire protection at this location. And, this power plant would be just a stone’s throw from the widened I-5, making it the closest power plant to a major freeway ever.
— Air pollution: Since the new plant would run many more hours a day than the old generating units it would replace, the new plant would result in a 10-fold increase in coastal air pollution.
— Visual blight: There is no way to screen the view of this plant. Building this plant condemns the North County coastline, and the gateway to the San Diego region’s tourism economy, to another 50 years of heavy industry.
— No guaranteed local benefit: There’s no guarantee the energy produced by the plant will benefit San Diego. NRG does not have a contract with SDG&E to use the energy locally.
In November, the California Energy Commission staff released its Final Staff Assessment, recommending that the commissioners approve the project. The CEC commissioners, not staff, will make the final decision on this project. City staff point out that commissioners recently rejected staff’s recommendation to approve a similar project in Chula Vista and are hopeful that, after considering all the facts, they will also reject the Carlsbad project.
The city is currently updating its General Plan, a document that serves as a blueprint for how land is used in Carlsbad. Decisions about where power plants should be located and the future use of the land currently occupied by the Encina Power Station will be incorporated into the updated General Plan.
The existing Encina Power Station is expected to be removed from the state’s “must run” list as soon as 2015. At that time, the plant could be torn down and the land put to another use. The city of Carlsbad has expressed concern that building another power plant on this site, even a smaller one, will severely limit how this land could be used in the future, condemning it to heavy industry and precluding recreational and tourism uses favored by the community.