PUC Delays Vote on SDG&E’s Proposed Fossil-Fuel Power Plants – Again – and the Sierra Club Is Pissed Off!

by on February 14, 2013 · 8 comments

in California, Culture, Economy, Energy, Environment, Health, Organizing, San Diego

Quail Brush valley

This is the valley near Mission Trails Park and SR-52 where SDG&E wants to build their fossil-fuel power plant.

During a period of time when the nuclear power station at San Onofre has been disabled for a year now, there are renewed calls, according to the U-T, to allow SDG&E to proceed with their plans to build two fossil-fuel power plants. Yet, when the California Public Utilities Commission sat down to vote on the utility’s proposals yesterday, Feb. 13th, they refused to take a vote and instead delayed their decision – again – and this time for the fourth time

The San Diego Chapter of the Sierra Club – who has opposed these plants – is pissed off, and they’re demanding answers – and rightfully so. The Chapter head, Lori Saldana, called it “unacceptable.”

Here is what the organization stated today:

Yesterday, the California Public Utilities Commission delayed a vote on San Diego Gas and Electric’s plan to build two new natural gas “peaker” plants and retrofit a third.

This was the fourth delay issued without explanation by the commission since November, when the assigned commissioner and administrative law judge issued separate proposed decisions that concluded new gas plant construction was not justified.

The CPUC was to consider two draft decisions up for some kind of decision on Wednesday, the Pio Pico plant, a 300-megawatt plant, adjacent to an existing power plant in unincorporated Otay Mesa, and the Quail Brush power plant, which is very close to Mission Trails Regional Park and opposite state Route 52. The Commission has authority to decide on whether these generators are safe and worthy projects to invest in on behalf of utility customers in San Diego and southern Orange counties.

The U-T estimates that the two gas plants, and a smaller retrofit in Escondido, would cost utility customers an estimated $2 billion over 25 years. The Sierra Club says the two plants will cost ratepayers more than $1.5 billion, and generate vast quantities of greenhouse gases.

According to the U-T:

Plant developers — along with the projects’ allies in the utilities industry and government — have seized on the prolonged shutdown of two reactors at San Onofre as new evidence of a pressing need for the plants.

San Diego Gas & Electric executives traveled up to San Francisco to lobby utility commissioners to reconsider, and are warning them “of a looming threat.” SDG&E President Michael Niggli reportedly told the regulators, in arguing for the new plants:

“It is uncertain what will happen with the (San Onofre) units, and it would be valuable to have an insurance policy on hand because of this uncertainty.”

Plus, the owner of the Pio Pico told the regulators that private equity funds already have dedicated tens of millions of dollars to developing these two projects. They are now warning that capital markets and merchant power developers could punish California, leading to “capital flight and inevitably questions about the integrity of (grid) reliability in the region, and ultimately leads to significantly higher rates for consumers.”

The U-T also quotes Robert Weisenmiller, chairman of the Sacramento-based California Energy Commission, which licenses power plants, as among those urging the utilities commission to clear the bureaucratic roadblocks and “make the factual findings necessary for Pio Pico’s approval.” Weisenmiller is reportedly to have stated that the decision not to approve the plants “is simply untenable.”

Meanwhile, quite a constellation of politicos, environmental and consumer groups have lined up in opposition to the plants, joining the Sierra Club. They include San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, County Supervisor Diane Jacob, and San Diego Association of Governments Chair Jack Dale, the League of Women Voters of San Diego and statewide consumer advocate The Utility Reform Network (TURN).

The Sierra Club also has mobilized its base, and more than 8,000 Sierra Club members and supporters from across California sent messages to the commissioners saying that natural gas plants are 20th century technology that should not be allowed to divert California from our successful clean energy path.

Lori Saldaña, Chair of the Sierra Club’s San Diego Chapter, also stated:

“The commission’s ongoing refusal to hold a vote on these proposed dirty fossil fuel plants is unacceptable. This scheme would build natural gas plants that we don’t need, cost ratepayers more than $1.5 billion, and generate vast quantities of greenhouse gases. It would also be a giant step backward for San Diego at a time when our local clean energy industry is thriving.

For instance, San Diego County leads the nation with 15,000 rooftop solar installations on homes and businesses. … On behalf of the thousands of San Diegans concerned about the negative environmental and economic effects this plan would generate, we demand that the commission stop these needless delays and proceed with a vote to reject these dirty, expensive, and unnecessary fossil fuel plants.”

Nicole Capretz of the Environmental Health Coalition was also quoted by the U-T; she believes state regulators and the public are being misinformed. Capretz stated:

“To the general member of the public it does seem like, ‘Oh no, San Onofre’s out, we need to build more power plants locally. It is just that the facts don’t support that.”

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

MDSD February 14, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Thanks Frank for much needed coverage of this issue. San Diegans are tired of SDG&E and their cronies trying to push fossil fuel power plants we don’t need down our throats so they can continue to profit off us – the ratepayers. We don’t need these peaker plants. What we need is a regional commitment to move to clean rooftop solar.


Pete Hasapopoulos February 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Thank you for the thorough article. It’s good to see a publication take the time to report with depth. SDG&E is fearmongering about San Onofre. Only twenty percent of SONGS’ power comes to San Diego. We did fine without it last summer and new generation is coming online in the LA basin that could be directed here if necessary. SDG&E doesn’t mention that. Moreover, the power plants in question are part-time “peaker” plants to deal with our hottest days. SDG&E doesn’t mention that our peak demand has been nearly static for the last six years and we did just fine. The big blackout was due to human error not lack of generation. Peak demand is not going up here or nationally primarily because of ever increasing energy efficiency. The CPUC factored these things when making the right proposed decision to reject the power plants, but SDG&E is throwing their weight around and spreading misinformation to twist things in their favor.


GGS February 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Thanks for keeping our community informed and alert to what is being proposed by the polluters. Vigilance is obviously essential. No doubt the opposition is hoping that this new power plant will just slide into place beneath the radar of an apathetic public. You’re helping ensure this won’t happen. Thanks again–this is why we will always need journalists!


Judy Swink February 14, 2013 at 3:54 pm

What do you know? For once, the UT made a true statement: “Plant developers — along with the projects’ allies in the utilities industry and government — have seized on the prolonged shutdown of two reactors at San Onofre as new evidence of a pressing need for the plants.” That’s exactly what’s happening and the push has absolutely no basis relative to local power needs. Thanks for the article, Frank, and thank you to Mayor Filner, the Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, other organizations and individuals who are fighting against approval of these “stealth plants”. Who wants to bet on how long they would remain “peaker plants” once in place? Hopefully, we’ll never find out.


Joan February 14, 2013 at 5:16 pm

The way to go is more solar, not these unneeded peaker plants! Why destroy the little open space left here for unnecessary plants? We got through last summer which lasted into October, just fine without these plants. If more people did solar, which can be leased these days for zero down, we would have even less need of these plants!


John February 15, 2013 at 1:32 am

Not so fast:


this discusses the hazardous waste generated by the industry in California, and the fossil fuels consumed merely transporting them, out of the state.

and this:


details the extreme costs borne by citizens of third world nations where production migrates to inevitably when pollution controls are enforced here in the states.

Never mind all that though, this is the elephant in the room:


The manufacturing process involved with solar panels produces nitrogen trifluoride, a greenhouse gas 17,000 times more harmful than carbon dioxide- and note that NF3 stays in the atmosphere for 700 years.

Not that I am against solar, if it could get me off the grid with the blood sucking utility companies I am all for it.

I just think some education is in order when people wish to do something helpful and their misguided efforts are far more harmful.


Kevin February 14, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Great article and coverage on all the angles. Simple math really , How much power we have – how much we need. And the facts don’t add up. Delaying the vote is only giving the power lobby to spend more time to pull one over on rate payers..


Passion4life February 15, 2013 at 7:52 am

Thank you for your story. Very informative. We don’t need these antiquated sources of power. They are not good for our health or our envioronment.
Go solar everyone! It’s so worth it.


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