Carlsbad focuses energy on negotiating over Encina Power Station

Carlsbad focuses energy on negotiating over Encina Power Station
The proposed new power plant is planned to be built on the same property as Encina Power Station along Carlsbad Boulevard. Photo by Rachel Stine

CARLSBAD — The city of Carlsbad dedicated time, money and energy opposing the construction of a second, larger power plant next to the existing Encina Power Station. But with overriding approval for the project from the state and a regional power shortage, construction is inevitable.

After spending six years and about $2.3 million opposing the project, the City Council decided at its Dec. 3 meeting to re-focus its energy to try negotiating with NRG and SDG&E on the eventual expansion.

“At the end of the day, you want to create energy and we want a clean site,” said Mayor Matt Hall, addressing NRG and SDG&E representatives.

NRG, the owner of the Encina Power Station, first proposed the second plant, the Carlsbad Energy Center Project, on its 95-acre property along Carlsbad’s coastline in 2007.

The planned plant would consist of two nine-story industrial buildings and two 14-story smoke stacks and generate 558 megawatts of power.

The plant would eventually replace the first three units of the existing 59-year-old power station. Construction on the more than $500 million project was originally scheduled to start at the beginning of 2014.

Carlsbad viewed the new power plant as a dangerous safety risk and a coastline eyesore that went against city land use regulations and offered no local benefit.

The city cited that the plant would be too close to Interstate 5 and lack sufficient access for emergency vehicles. It argued that with new air-cooled plants, the project should be located out of sight, in an industrial area.

Officials added that without a contract to sell the power locally, the power produced at the site would not benefit local residents.

NRG obtained permit for its project from the California Energy Commission in May 2012. The city’s opposition to the project was overruled by the California Supreme Court.

At the time, Hall said, “It’s important to keep in mind there is still a long road ahead before this project sees the light of day, if ever.”

But with the official shut down of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station this summer, the San Diego region is in need of an additional 600 megawatts of power, according to CAISO (California Independent System Operator).

SDG&E has offered to purchase the power generated by the new power plant if NRG agrees to change the proposed plant’s technology.

NRG has agreed to amend its project if the city lends its support.

City staff suggested that council consider negotiating with NRG and SDG&E in an attempt to make changes to the energy infrastructure and property use of the project to benefit the residents of Carlsbad.

Assistant City Manager Gary Barberio acknowledged that, “The city has invested significant resources, both time and energy and finances, in the opposition of this effort.”

But he conceded that because of the SONGS closure, “The energy supply environment in California has dramatically changed.”

Residents who helped the original opposition effort spoke out against negotiating.

Planning Commissioner Kerry Siekmann said, “Our big motto was, ‘The wrong power plan in the wrong location.’ And it still is.”

“I don’t want the public to think that we’re changing course. I think it’s prudent that when we see the writing on the wall…it’s in the best interest of everybody, especially our community, to find some compromises,” said Councilmember Keith Blackburn.

“(NRG and the city) both understand each other’s positions. But, they’re fighting for what’s in the best interest of their business and we’re fighting for what’s in the best interest of our community,” he added.

As a whole, council agreed that it was worth working on negotiations in the hopes of reaching compromises between NRG and Carlsbad’s competing interests. They voted unanimously to that effect.

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