NRG Energy’s Encina Power Station in San Diego County. Image from Google Maps street view.

Clean energy advocates in California were pretty excited two months ago when an administrative law judge told state utilities regulators they should look for preferred alternatives to approving a power purchase agreement for power from a new natural gas-fired plant in San Diego County.

Alternatives like renewable energy, storage, efficiency and demand response.

“This is a huge reversal of what we thought would happen,” Matt Vespa, a lawyer for the Sierra Club, said back in March.

But come final-decision time this Thursday, the Public Utilities Commission, by a 4-1 vote, said yes to NRG Energy’s Carlsbad Energy Center, a 500-megawatt, five-unit gas peaking plant.

The majority of the PUC agreed with state grid operators and NRG that the plant was the best option to quickly provide a new power source in the wake of the closure of the San Onofre nuclear power plant and with the gas-powered Encina Power Station due to be shut down because it relies on now-forbidden sea-water cooling.

In fact, NRG put a green spin on things, saying “the Carlsbad Energy Center is the best approach to have the appropriate, flexible capacity online by 2017 to enable California to reach its greenhouse gas reduction goals through building additional renewable generation while preserving the reliability of the grid.”

Vespa, once so hopeful, had a different view.

“This decision is just more of the same from the CPUC. What they did today will lock San Diego into paying for a multi-billion dollar gas plant, a proposal that was drafted behind closed doors. By allowing this gas plant to be built, we are stifling San Diego’s clean energy potential, job growth, and ambitious efforts to reduce pollution that exacerbates health issues and climate change. With Governor Brown touting California’s ambitious new greenhouse gas goals to the international community, back at home the CPUC continues to direct billions of dollars toward outdated energy sources and undermine our state’s clean energy future.” – Matt Vespa, from the Sierra Club’s My Generation Campaign

Originally Published on Breaking Energy, May 22 2015. 


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