California Public Utilities Commission rejects SDG&E power plant plans

Planned plant near Mission Trails Park denied

SAN DIEGO - The California Public Utilities Commission Thursday authorized San Diego Gas & Electric to purchase energy from the re-powered Escondido Energy Center, but denied the utility from procuring power from two proposed plants, slated for areas in Otay Mesa and near the San Diego-Santee city limits.

SDG&E's 25-year contract with Escondido Energy Center involves re-powering the existing 35-megawatt facility, which will increase to 45 megawatts after it is expanded. The CPUC approved the contract because of its relative low cost, small size increase, high viability and environmental benefits.

The CPUC declined to allow the utility to enter into similar agreements with Pio Pico Energy Center and Quail Brush Power, in part because those plants were scheduled to come online in 2014, but evidence demonstrated there won't be a need for more power locally until 2018 -- four years into the contracts' 20-year terms.

CPUC officials said buying the extra power before it is needed would be unreasonable to ratepayers.

"It's only natural to look at these projects and conclude that they might help address not-yet-defined future problems. However, as tempting as it may be, I think this is the wrong approach," CPUC Commissioner Mark J. Ferron said. "We run the risk of paying for new generation twice -- once now and a second time if we have different, conflicting, future information."

SDG&E is required to either issue new Requests for Offers to meet the remainder of its 298-megawatt need, or to submit a renewed application that better matched the timing issue or demonstrated a different showing of need for either Pio Pico Energy Center or Quail Brush Power, according to the CPUC.

"If SDG&E is able to amend the contracts we declined and bring them back to us, we will consider them," CPUC President Michael R. Peevey said. "San Diego is going to need plants with flexible operating qualities in the very near future."

In a statement, SDG&E said, "We are disappointed with the California Public Utilities Commission's decision to deny our application to enter into power purchase agreements with Pio Pico Energy and Quail Brush Generation Project."

County Supervisors Dianne Jacob and Dave Roberts opposed the Quail Brush plant. They said it would harm the environment, create visual blight in nearby Mission Trails Park, intrude upon sensitive habitats and set back regional efforts to develop cleaner forms of energy.

"Today's rejection of Quail Brush is not only a victory for the environment, it's a victory for the community," Jacob said. "It sends a message that San Diego County shouldn't rely on old-school, power plant technology and that we can accelerate our efforts to develop renewable, cleaner forms of energy, like rooftop solar and fuel cells."

San Diego City Councilman Scott Sherman also opposed the Quail Brush project.

"As the local representative for Mission Trails Park, this issue hits close to home," Sherman said. "I am opposed to the construction of this power plant in the middle of an unspoiled regional park."

"I think it's was excellent, it was a very good discussion; well thought out" said Tierrasanta resident Richard Thesing. "The power plant would have went right into Mission Trails Park and that's not what people want."

"It's going to infringe on the air quality of the area," Santee resident Franco Tsimboukokis told 10News.

"The invisible pollutions goes deep into the lungs and is harmful especially to children and the elderly," added residentStephen Houlohun.

The proposed plants also drew fire from members of environmental groups including the Sierra Club and the Environmental Health Coalition.

"We are disappointed that the PUC didn't take this opportunity to say no permanently," said Pete Hasapopoulos of the Sierra Club. "We have several years now to look at all of the things that local clean energy, like solar energy, can do and to demonstrate how those are getting the job done."

10News learned SDG&E has the ability to appeal the CPUC's decision.

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