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Quail Brush Power Plant Fire Risks Worry Local Residents

From delayed firefighter response times to possibilities of gas pipeline explosions, the Save Mission Trails group looks deeper at potential fire risks.

Submitted by Save Mission Trails.org

Will our communities, homes, and our lives be protected? The City of Santee has stated it refuses to provide any emergency services to the Quail Brush Power Plant. The only response would be from San Diego, which has also opposed the project. Therefore, according to the California Energy Commission (CEC), to meet the local regulations and standards (LORS), a fire would need to be impossible, the risk zero. Really? Zero fire risk? San Diegans and East County residents know all too well, this won't be the case!  

Required vs. Actual response times for S.D. Fire Stations to the proposed plant site:

Standards Actual 7.5 minutes, single unit 14.6 minutes, station E34 10 minutes, multiple units 15.2 minutes, E39

At the October 19, 2012, CEC Public Workshop, San Diego Deputy Chief Doug Perry stated the “drawdown” of emergency response resources and extended response times by the Fire Dept. are significant. We “can’t get there as quick as CityGate rules say that we should.” He continued, "It will take longer and the fires will potentially be larger."

Perry says he won’t put his people at risk if the plant itself has a fire. This is understandable due to high voltage and other dangerous issues. SDGE would have to come first and de-energize the plant. Perry notes that this will take awhile as in the recent case of fire in a Kearny Mesa facility. The fires burned for nearly three hours before being considered safe for fire crews to enter and do their job.

The applicant CoGentrix said that to bridge this time gap, they will create a “shelter in place” with breathing apparatus for the workers. Perry agreed it could be safer to keep the workers in the structure and let a wildlands fire go around it. SMT volunteer Sonja Ramos, who lives close to the proposed site, noted this shelter will be of no help to her and other local residents, though.

The cul-de-sac of the cul-de-sac

At the CEC meeting, the public learned that CalFire and US Forest Service would not be dispatched until it was considered a 3rd or 4th alarm fire and only if the fire is on wildland (not within the plant facility). Perry said that in the San Diego area, we don’t always get the resources we need.

“We’re the cul-de-sac of the state,” he said.

Yes, and many of us live in the cul-de-sac of a neighborhood with only one escape route. About 1,000 residents in three townhome/condo complexes live in the cul-de-sac area near Bushy Hill/Simeon Drive less than a mile southwest.  It’s unlikely residents will be able to effectively evacuate when there is only one escape route.

What if there is a natural gas explosion at the site…or another Santa Ana-wind driven fire like those of 2003 and 2007?  Santa Ana conditions are all-too-common in San Diego.

Going up in smoke

A homeowner less than a mile south of the power plant site has been denied insurance on her condo by both Ameriprise and the Automobile Club (Triple A). She called Ameriprise to get specifics about her denial and was told, “It’s because of being in a fire zone." Ameriprise utilizes "risk meter.com" (a member site used by insurance companies to determine insurance risk) and Google Maps. The company told her the area is extremely high risk, and that underwriters would not insure her condo or any other properties within 500 feet of a fire zone. Another homeowner living near Medina St. east of the proposed plant told SMT, "My husband and I were denied home insurance by Wawanesa Insurance Group due to the fire zone at Mission Trails Regional Park."

So, if homeowners can't get insurance due to proximity to a designated fire zone, why should a gas-powered plant covering 11+ acres within this zone get a green light? And how will a gas power plant impact the residents of the surrounding area? Residents worry about insurance coverage and rate increases compounding property value loss.

Unusual and fierce

San Diego is known for its unusual and fierce wildlfire conditions. Santa Ana conditions produce winds blowing sometimes over 100 mph. Once started, fires are difficult if not impossible to stop in winds more than 25 mph, and fires are commonly blown up and down hillsides. The result is very fast spreading fires that typically get out of control quickly. One good spark and we're all up in smoke.

Additionally, brush fires in and along Mission Trails and East Elliott Open Space are common, especially along Highway 52. Locals are used to seeing a few every year, with many started from car sparks or cigarettes thrown out car windows.

At the workshop, the applicant and the CEC tried to assure us that we are safe from fires and that fires in these types of power plants are rare. Meanwhile, CEC staff recommended that CoGentrix hire and train their own in-house fire brigade and have an onsite EMT. Our reply: We won’t take this risk.

Just recently in the news: “A natural gas power plant at Miramar remained offline this week after a weekend fire. Plant operator NRG Energy still is evaluating when its generator may return to service, said company spokeswoman Lori Neuman. An adjacent power plant run by San Diego Gas & Electric briefly had its fuel supply cut off as a result of the fire. The blaze broke out Saturday at about 6:15 p.m. at the plant on Consolidated Way north of the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station. Flames soared 30 feet into the air.”

CEC Fire Safety Expert says there is no risk of fires from the pipeline due to strict Federal regulations of new pipelines. Here's a list of some pipeline accidents resulting in fires. We’re sure the folks living near the San Bruno gas power plant explosion in 2010 had also been reassured that there was no danger.

Read more about the Quail Brush project

Stephen Houlahan December 14, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Help SaveMissionTrails.org end Cogentrix threat once and for all! Let the CPUC know that our community in united against the Quail Brush Power Plant. Go to http://www.savemissiontrail.org and submit your letter of opposition to the CPUC today.
Margie Logue December 17, 2012 at 04:01 AM
The vote of the San Diego City Council and the Planning Commission to deny rezoning in order to build Quail-Brush reaffirmed my faith in city government. The CPUC and CEC are in Sacramento. Hopefully with all the disasters around power plants and the evolution of knowledge about the toxic effects of fossil fuel gases, this state will make the right decision to protect its people and reject Quail-Brush.
Margie Logue December 17, 2012 at 04:01 AM
The vote of the San Diego City Council and the Planning Commission to deny rezoning in order to build Quail-Brush reaffirmed my faith in city government. The CPUC and CEC are in Sacramento. Hopefully with all the disasters around power plants and the evolution of knowledge about the toxic effects of fossil fuel gases, this state will make the right decision to protect its people and reject Quail-Brush.
TMcC December 17, 2012 at 05:05 AM
People spoke out, local officials paid heed, experts/organizations joined this good fight! Will Sacramento hear us NOW? Not unless we stand & speak as we have before! Sign the petition (2 mins) & email 2 letters ASAP (before DEC 20th!). To do this, go here & then get 5 others to do the same: http://savemissiontrails.org/ Only our united force for the good of our community & families will prevail!
Patty Kay Mooney December 19, 2012 at 11:47 PM
Local residents are right to be worried. Many of us can remember skies grey with smoke, walls of flames marching up Mission Trails, and the trauma of evacuating from our homes. Some of us have experienced the emptiness of lost home and possessions. I guess it's pretty easy for someone from North Carolina to come to San Diego and push their greedy agenda on us. But we will have none of it! No to the Quail Brush Power Plant. A resounding NO.

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