November 26, 2012 (San Diego) – California Public Utilities Commissioner Mark Ferron has issued a draft decision finding no current need for the Quail Brush and Pio Pico gas-fired power plants proposed by SDG&E at Mission Trails and Otay Mesa. He concludes the plants would not be needed until at least 2018—and then only if a Carlsbad power plant is shut down and not replaced. A separate proposed decision by CPUC administrative law judge Halley Yacknin also rejected both plants.
The full CPUC will have the final say, and could opt to amend the draft decision before a public meeting, which has not yet been scheduled.
“We are encouraged by the CPUC statement,” Jeff Kahn with Save Mission Trails told ECM. The group has led efforts to stop the Quail Brush facility. “We have been diligently campaigning and committed to protecting our communities, the park and San Diego’s interest. We will continue our work through community outreach and civic and group coalition building,’ he said.
Kahn indicated that a final CPUC ruling is expected within 30 days. Although the outcome remains uncertain, Kahn said he is “optimistic” that plans for the controversial Quail Brush power plant may be denied by the CPUC. But he expressed concerns over a separate potential action by the California Energy Commission.San Diego’s City Council denied a zoning change needed to build the Quail Brush plant, however the CEC has the option to overrule the Council.
The Quail Brush plant has faced enormous opposition, drawing intervenors including the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council, uniting even such polar political oppositions as conservative Santee Mayor Randy Voepel and liberal San Diego Mayor-elect Bob Filner. Santee's city council and the Santee school district have also weighed in against the project, along with numerous other organizations and individuals.
San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) has argued that the power plants are necessary in light of potential decommissioning of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, which has been offline for most of this year, as well as to offset other power plants slated to shut down over the next five years for environmental reasons. The utility also contends that the gas-fired “peaker” plants are needed to meet peak energy demand needs when wind and solar power is not available, ie at night when the sun isn’t shining or during non-windy days.
Completion of Sunrise Powerlink prior to peak summer season helped allay risk of power outages, even though the line has not yet begun carrying renewable but was launched with hookups to fossil fuel facilities out of state. Ultimately SDG&E aims to hook up Powerlink to industrial wind and desert solar projects in Imperial County, though controversies over environmental, health, and cultural resource impacts have swirled around those projects.
Meanwhile state regulators have approved a two-year, $1.9 billion budget for reducing energy consumption and avoiding the need for new power plants, U-T San Diego reports. The program emphasizes funding of energy retrofits to improve efficiency of buildings as well as heating, cooling and lighting to reduce the risk of power outages while also diminishing need for fossil fuel power plants.
Some municipalities are launching their own alternative energy providers, such as Marin County’s Marin Energy Authority and the San Francisco Bay Area Regional Energy Network. In San Diego, efforts are underway, supported by Mayor-elect Filner, to establish a local energy alternative provider that would purchase power from homes and businesses producing surplus solar or other forms of locally produced clean energy.