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Victory for Quail Brush Foes: PUC Denies Power Contract for Peaker Plant

Save Mission Trails and other activist groups were out in force for Thursday's commission hearing.

Updated at 3:15 p.m. March 21, 2013

In a victory for Santee and other critics of a proposed local power plant, the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted 5-0 Thursday to deny the power purchase contract for Quail Brush and Pio Pico power plants at a San Diego hearing.  

The decision doesn’t put a nail in the coffin of Quail Brush—a “peaker plant” project opposed by the Santee City Council and other public agencies.

The California Energy Commission can still approve the construction of Quail Brush, but the plant wouldn’t be able to sell power to San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

The issue at hand during Thursday’s hearing at the County Operations Center in Kearny Mesa was: Is there a need for more power in San Diego’s grid?

The PUC’s answer to this question came in a unanimous vote that decided more power plants won’t be necessary in San Diego County until 2018, when a 298-megawatt need may materialize. The commission decision did approve the repower of the small Escondido Energy Center.

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.

Santee City Councilmember Jack Dale responded to the vote with gratitude to "Santee citizens in orange" and others "who  fought the good fight to prevent the city from being subject to the adverse effects of this facility.”

“I would have preferred for the PUC to dismiss the entire Qual Brush idea for good," Dale said. "However, we have five years as a region to use alternative energy sources to replace the dirty fuels that produce energy today."

Opponents of Quail Brush, many dressed in orange, filled the audience at the hearing—the color worn by the Santee-based Save Mission Trails activist group.

They held a rally with other critics before the hearing, and many spoke before the commission in opposition to the plants, as did San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, Santee Councilman Jack Dale and East County Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

"Today’s rejection of Quail Brush is not only a victory for the environment, it’s a victory for our community," Jacob said in a statement. "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."

After the vote many opponents to the plants chanted that the PUC punted the projects down the road, as the door is open for these same power projects to come before the PUC again in a few years.

The plant, classified as a “peaker” plant, would be used to supplement SDG&E’s available power in case of heat overload or blackouts on the overall system.

Cogentrix, the North Carolina-based company that wants to build the plant, has said it would run at only 43 percent capacity, and would be entirely natural gas-fired.

CPUC officials said the increased rates for buying the extra power at least five years 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."

City News Service contributed to this post.

Poll: Should California Expand Nuclear and Natural-Gas Power Plant Network?

Celina Beach March 21, 2013 at 06:44 PM
Great news! Congrats and good job to all involved in opposing this power plant.
Doug Curlee March 21, 2013 at 09:12 PM
interestingly, the u-t today reported on the strong possibility of rolling blackouts this summer, what with san onofre being offline..this from cal-iso.. the kind of thing peaker plants are specifically designed to prevent.. hope this isn't a short-sighted decision..but i think it is..one we may regret.. doug
Retha Knight March 21, 2013 at 10:36 PM
SDG&E has excess power generation reserves without San Onofre (SONGS). SDG&E had reserves of about 24% during the hottest hour of the year on September 14, 2012. The required reserve is 15 to 17 %. The lights will stay on without SONGS - fear mongering about it is shameful!
SB March 21, 2013 at 11:11 PM
Also interestingly from that very same UT article, the possibility is not only pure speculation, but is based on the worst case scenario, with a possibility of happening of less than 1%: "electricity reserves for Southern California could drop below the threshold for blackouts under an extreme scenario of intensely hot weather, low available imports from out of state and unexpected generation failures, according to projections issued this month by the California ISO. The probability of that scenario is less than 1 percent." Agree, lets not spread fear and misinformation by taking facts out of context. The article goes on to say: "The California ISO estimates it could reduce demand by an additional 1,000 megawatts by broadcasting conservation appeals to the public over radio and TV, although funding for those ads is uncertain." Hmmm.....how about funding those ads with money slated for unneeded power plants? I bet the ads would be A LOT cheaper!
SB March 21, 2013 at 11:17 PM
P.S....the "probability of that scenario is less than 1%" most certainly does NOT equate to a "strong possibility". Statistically, that low of a probability is very very slight.
rudy reyes March 21, 2013 at 11:24 PM
as a intervenor in the project I thank the whole community for forcing the politician into opposing this horrible project! congratulations to us all!
Doug Curlee March 21, 2013 at 11:47 PM
sb.. that's about what we all thought just before the whole system crashed and caused the big blackout.. i trust you recall that.. doug
SB March 22, 2013 at 12:45 AM
Doug, yes, I do remember the Sept 2011 blackout quite well, it was on one of the hottest days in recent memory. However, the reason whole system crashed was NOT because of insufficient power. The reason was because of human error and procedural/administrative flaws. A single person at a substation in Arizona caused the cascading effect that shut down the entire grid across southern CA and parts of other states. The reasons are well documented in studies done after the event, and numerous procedural/administrative recommendations were made, not one of which was related to power shortages. I can find the link to this voluminous document again if you like, but I did post it in another thread. Again, lets not spread misinformation. In that case, no number of local power plants would have saved the day: the controls and safeguards in place at the time still would have shut the entire grid down. If you have different information from an authoritative source stating that blackout was caused by power shortages, then post a link to it here, but it certainly is not in the official documents I've seen.
Doug Curlee March 22, 2013 at 01:39 AM
no, it's not there.. i have the whole report on my computer.. my point is, we could easily face another crisis simply because of increased demand on an overburdened system..that's happened before, too.. i remember spending days at sdg&e's opereations center several years ago, doing live updates on the rolling blackouts we were having.. again, the kind of thing peaker plants are designed to prevent.. sorry.. i think, and i've said before, that we're making a mistake opposing these plants..i just hope it doesn't turn out to be a disastrous mistake.. just to keep the bananas happy.. doug
Retha Knight March 22, 2013 at 06:02 AM
Oh, you mean these bananas: U.S. Congressman and San Diego Mayor Bob Filner California Assemblymember Brian Jones County Supervisor Dianne Jacob County Supervisor Dave Roberts State Senator Marty Block La Mesa Councilmember Ruth Sterling Tierrasanta Community Councilmember Rich Thesing Former San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye
Retha Knight March 22, 2013 at 06:04 AM
Or these bananas? San Diego City Councilmembers: Council President Todd Gloria, David Alvarez, Marti Emerald, Kevin Faulconer, Mark Kersey, President Pro Tem Sherri Lightner, Scott Sherman, Lorie Zapf, Carl DeMaio (former), Council President Tony Young (former). Santee Mayor Randy Voepel and Santee City Councilmembers: Jack Dale, Rob McNelis, John Minto, John Ryan.
Retha Knight March 22, 2013 at 06:06 AM
Or possibly these bananas? California Pilots Association (CalPilots) Center for Electrosmog Prevention Cleveland National Forest Foundation Coalition to Decommission San Onofre Crest/Dehesa/Granite Hills/ Harbison Canyon Subregional Planning Group East County California Republican Assembly Endangered Habitats League Greater Santee California Republican Assembly Green Party of San Diego Highland Trails HOA League of Women Voters Mission View HOA Mountain Defense League San Diego Canyonlands San Diego Coastkeeper San Diego Energy District Foundation San Diego Mountain Biking Association San Diego River Coalition Santee School Board Sunset Greens HOA
Doug Curlee March 22, 2013 at 04:08 PM
yes.. most of those bananas and more.. i think it's a bad decision.. i hope i'm proven wrong, but i don't think i will be..there isx going to come a day..and it might be this summer..that we'll have cause to regret this.. of course, it ain't over.. the california energy commission still has to weigh in..it could make exactly the oppositre decision, you know.. then where will we be? good fun.. doug
TMcC March 22, 2013 at 10:01 PM
How about the CALIFORNIA PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSIONERS? Their UNANIMOUS vote yesterday said that for years to come the 5 commissioners are satisfied that need is NOT lacking, nor could they justify what was an attempted QUICK-GRAB of $1.5 BILLION ratepayer dollars for new gas power plants. The attempt at that premature-grab by SDGE's application that purported need at such a blown-up scale, is a HUGE RED FLAG. It says plenty about the applicant, SDGE, and their energy industry partners (aka referred to as "stakeholders" to the CPUC). It would be bananas not to pay focused attention to that! The CEC is NOT in the power-need-decision business, from what I understand, nor in the autocratic-local-rezoning-decision business.
Mike Walker March 25, 2013 at 03:03 AM
LOL, string a couple of these kits together and you can power the critical loads in your house, refrigerator, entertainment center, general lighting, modems and a laptop. Over a 30 year period you are looking at somewhere around $10.00 per month to power all that and with batteries you can do it, "when the sun doesn't shine" http://www.costco.com/Coleman-260-Watt-Solar-Kit.product.11671549.html When this is available, why would anyone pay some crony company $100.00 a month when you can get the same energy for $10.00 a month? And more reliable at that! Make no mistake about it, your utility bill is about to triple to pay for the energy sprawl in the desert on our public lands.
Sandy March 25, 2013 at 04:16 AM
This is a big (temporary) victory for the Santee citizens who rallied together against a huge fossil fuel plant that would have eleven 70' smoke stacks at the western gateway to our community, and worse, all the while we would be breathing the added pollution. While we have a two-year reprieve via the CPUC's decision based on lack of current need for the plant, let's nail the last nail in the coffin FOR GOOD with continued mass opposition to the CA Energy Commission, the agency that is charged with finding appropriate locations for these plants. If you are glad that Santee MAY be spared the pollution, the fire hazard, the property-value decrease, and the bad morale from this project, then Save Mission Trails volunteers urges you to take a quick five moments to make it SO. The CEC is accepting letters for only a few more weeks. It's easy to send a letter today via www.savemissiontrails.org/email-activism. Every one who hasn't written a letter yet opposing this plant can still do so! Way-to-go Santee!!

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