An official decision approving a controversial new gas-fired power plant in Carlsbad has been issued by the California Public Utilities Commission. As promised, commissioner Catherine J.K. Sandoval, who cast the lone vote against approval, appended the decision with her formal dissent.
Opponents of the plant argued that San Diego Gas & Electric was required to solicit bids for power generation from "preferred sources,” including renewables such as wind and solar, as components in the plan to replace power lost from the premature failure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
Instead, the utility submitted a plan to build the gas plant before it had collected other bids. Proposals came in offering to replace San Diego's share of power from San Onofre several times over, but SDG&E has refused to disclose where those bids came from or what proportion of bids came from preferred sources.
Utility officials argued they needed to move forward with the plan for the new Carlsbad plant in order to ensure the timely closing of another gas plant, Encina, located immediately adjacent to where the new plant is proposed.
Encina is being shuttered as a statewide move away from "once-through cooling" systems that pump in sea water, cycle it through the plant, and then dump the heated water offshore. The process has been shown to harm marine life sucked into the plant's cooling system and alter natural conditions at the system's discharge locations.
Public utilities commission head Michael Picker lent support to this view, hastily penning a revised plan for a 500-megawatt plant at the Carlsbad site after an administrative law judge recommended rejecting the original plan for a 600-megawatt facility.
But environmentalists noted, as did Sandoval, that the retirement of Encina had already been addressed. In early 2014, the CPUC approved a new gas plant in Otay Mesa to replace Encina.
Opponents of the Carlsbad plant have already promised a legal challenge seeking to scrap the project or delay its construction until SDG&E can be forced to give serious consideration to more environmentally friendly options. No lawsuits in the matter have been filed.