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Carlsbad seeks support from southern cities

COAST CITIES — Carlsbad City Councilman Matt Hall received a split decision when he went south seeking support to oppose a proposal that would replace the Encina Power Plant on Carlsbad Boulevard with a new energy center.
Hall discussed the project during the presentation portion of the Del Mar and Solana Beach city council meetings June 8 and June 10, respectively. While Del Mar voted to support its northern neighbor and submit a letter of opposition, Solana Beach Mayor Mike Nichols said he and his colleagues couldn’t take action because the item was agendized for discussion.
Nichols said Solana Beach would likely take a position before July 8, the last meeting before going dark for the summer. Del Mar Mayor Crystal Crawford said she and her colleagues voted on the item because the recommended action listed on the agenda was to provide direction. There was no such wording on the Solana Beach agenda.
A division of NRG Energy, NRG West plans to replace Encina, which it owns, with a 540-megawatt plant. The proposal is to demolish three oil storage tanks on the 95-acre facility and replace them with a 1,200-foot-long energy center that would include two 140-foot-tall emission stacks, two 10-story structures and two six-story buildings on 23 acres.
In 2007, NRG submitted its plans to the California Energy Commission, which will make the final determination about whether the plant is built. Since then, Carlsbad conducted an analysis that concluded the project would have negative visual impacts. It also revealed the plant is not compliant with the city’s land-use plans regarding heavy industrial use along the coast. Because the system would be automated, the project wouldn’t provide long-term job opportunities, Hall said, adding that it would also negatively impact tourism and increase air pollution.
There are currently no plans to demolish the existing 400-foot emissions stack. It could be reduced because the plant no longer uses oil, Steve Hoffman, regional president for NRG West, said. But it will remain in place until all units at Encina are completely retired, he said, adding there is currently no timeline for its removal.
Although the Carlsbad council unanimously passed three resolutions opposing the project, Hall said the city supports building a facility elsewhere, especially since unlike Encina, it would not require seawater for its cooling system.
Hall said potential sites have been located in Chula Vista and Camp Pendleton. “The fact is an energy center does not need to be located next to the coast.”
Solana Beach invited NRG representatives to make a presentation at its meeting. George Piantka, director of regional environmental business for NRG West, said other potential sites aren’t technically feasible. He said because NRG owns the Carlsbad plant it can utilize existing infrastructure.
He said the energy commission concluded the plant would cause significant impacts at the alternate sites, but minimal impacts at the Carlsbad facility, something Solana Beach City Councilman Tom Campbell said was “hard to accept” if it is built along the coastline. “That just doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.
Piantka said the new plant would create a smaller industrial footprint by retiring the three oldest units and replacing them with two highly efficient, low-profile ones. He said the project would use more than $30 million of local materials and provide more than 500 local jobs. It would also result in an estimated $22 million in state taxes and $5 million in annual tax revenue for Carlsbad.
He said the power plant is a more intense industrial use than the desalination plant planned for the site. While there is currently no master plan for the area, Hall said the council has a vision for tourist and commercial use.
Piantka said replacing Encina would open up 65 coastal acres for nonindustrial redevelopment, which is consistent with the city’s vision.
Crawford was unsure if Del Mar asked NRG to give a presentation at its meeting. “Frankly, if I thought about it, I would have asked,” Crawford said, adding that it probably wouldn’t have impacted the council’s decision.
Councilman Don Mosier said he would oppose the project on the pollution and air quality issues alone. “We need more energy in California, but there are much better sources of energy than building a traditional plant like this,” he said. “This would be a step backward.”
Councilman Mark Filanc agreed with Mosier, but said he would oppose the project on a visual standpoint alone. “It’s relatively obscene as you’re driving down the road,” Filanc said. “We wouldn’t want that visual impact either.”
Crawford said Del Mar is usually “somewhat circumspect” when asked to take positions on issues outside city boundaries. “We have been known to do that, particularly when it involves environmental issues, open space (and) visual impacts.”
“Our community has strong values for preserving natural resources and views of the coastline and of our beautiful ocean,” Crawford said.