Three cities oppose gas-fired power plants to replace San Onofre electricity

The cities of Encinitas and Del Mar in San Diego County have appealed to the California Public Utilities Commission opposing the use of gas-fired power plants to replace lost power from the San Onofre nuclear power plant.  San Onofre was shut down due to mechanical design flaws. The City of Solana Beach is about to follow suit.

If taken to its extreme, these cities could have no backup power when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. Moreover, depending on solar farms for daytime base-load power creates a fast ramping-down problem at sunset each day when the sun’s radiant energy is fading.

Wind energy typically isn’t available until early morning hours, if at all.  The only reliable backup is natural gas-fired power plants. But that information hasn’t deterred municipal opposition to new gas-powered plants in San Diego County.

KBPS public radio and TV quotes SDG&E spokeswoman Stephanie Donovan that her “company needs to use all its options, and the (proposed) Pio Pico plant would be able to generate 300 megawatts of power.”  Donovan added that to “maintain some traditional base load natural gas-fired power plants, Pio Pico…will help provide stability of the grid and the reliability of the system overall.”

Judge urges approval of Pio Pico gas-powered plant

On Jan. 7, an administrative law judge impelled the CPUC to authorize construction of the Pio Pico Energy Center. The power plant would be located in Otay Mesa along the U.S.-Mexico border about 35 miles south of the three cities.

Pio Pico would be a “peaker” plant geared to generate energy only at peak hours of each day.  And because peaker plants are idle much of the time, the rate for their power has to be higher to cover their construction and operating costs.

The CPUC rejected the Pio Pico Energy Center last year because there was no need for its electricity until 2018.  But that was before the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station decommissioning was begun last year. San Onofre supplied 20 percent of San Diego’s power demand.

124 percent price increase for peak power

According to EnergyNewsData.com, peak hour electricity prices for Jan. 3 added about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour to the off-peak hour price of about 4.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, a 124 percent increase:

Off-Peak Hour Price: $0.042/kwh

Peak Hour Premium: $0.051/kwh

Total Peak Hour Price: $0.092/kwh

Percent Added: +124 percent

Source: Western Price Survey, Energy News Data, Jan. 3, 2014 

Fact check: “SDG&E does not have solar in financial plan”

Solana Beach Deputy Mayor Lesa Heebner asserted, “There’s all sorts of capacity for clean energy that will be able to take up the slack.  It’s not in SDG&E’s financial plan to have solar rooftops in their portfolio as a generator, because they can’t control it.”

A fact check of the online database for the California Solar Initiative indicates San Diego County had the highest number of applications (about 16,000) for solar rooftop installations in all of California.  SDG&E’s 3,284,000 other customers subsidized the 16,000 rooftop-solar installations in San Diego County.

No water desalination without Encina gas plant

Another new gas-powered plant is proposed for construction in 2017 in Carlsbad when the existing 965-megawatt water-cooled Encina Plant owned by NRG Energy is shut down. The existing Encina Plant has to be decommissioned to comply with a new law prohibiting coastal power plants from using ocean water to cool their turbines due to impacts on fish larvae.

A water desalinization plant also planned by the San Diego County Water Authority to be co-located on the Encina plant site will use excess heat from the new gas-fired power plant to reduce energy costs. Without the new gas co-generation plant, the desalination plant would have no source of power.

A recent opinion poll found that 56 percent of electricity ratepayers wanted clean, renewable power to replace the lost power from San Onofre. The Sierra Club is an opponent of the new gas plants and funded the poll.

The three cities along California’s San Diego coastline no longer want clean, cheap and reliable electric power from the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant. This is despite a power engineer recently claiming that San Onofre could still be operated safely if it was just run at less capacity.  These cities favor replacing San Onofre’s nuclear power with clean, but pricey and sporadic, green power.

It is still not clear, however, what could provide backup power to sporadic green power plants other than gas-fired power plants that have quick ramping up capabilities.

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