Clean energy activists gathered in Solana Beach on Tuesday morning (May 5) to protest a proposal from San Diego Gas & Electric and Texas-based NRG Energy to build a new gas-fired power plant along the coast in Carlsbad. A decision on whether to green-light the project could come from the California Public Utilities Commission as early as today (May 7).
"A natural gas power plant — you might as well call it a dinosaur. It's from a different age that we've moved well beyond today," said the Sierra Club's Pete Hasapopoulos. "We have elected officials from Vista all the way to Chula Vista on record opposing this plant.
Organizers distributed a list including 15 public officials and 13 activist groups that have publicly spoken against approval of the plant, including Solana Beach city councilmember Peter Zahn.
"The so-called Carlsbad Energy Center would have significant negative impacts on residents and businesses in Solana Beach…it would cost our residents and other SDG&E customers 2.6 billion dollars — enough to pay for two Chargers stadiums or 150,000 rooftop solar systems," said Zahn. She called the proposed plant "a giant step backwards, and an increase in harmful emissions" when compared to the near-zero-emission facility at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station that Carlsbad seeks to replace.
Opponents have pointed out that when SDG&E issued a request for proposals to replace the region's share of energy generation lost from the premature failure of San Onofre, a slew of plans sufficient to replace the lost power several times over were submitted. The utility has thus far refused to disclose any information regarding the nature of those proposals, issuing an almost-entirely redacted list of details when pressed on the matter.
Tara Kelly spoke as a representative of the local solar-energy industry, which she says comprises over 250 companies in the region. Kelly told assembled media and onlookers that investing in clean tech would produce more local jobs than a gas plant, which she claimed would likely only employ 10 to 25 full-time workers once construction was complete.
"There are now more employees in the California solar industry than in the five largest utilities in the state combined," says Kelly, estimating the total number of employees in the solar field at 54,000 statewide.
Also present was Arin Zwonitzer, a Carlsbad High School student who organized a petition drive against the plant that gathered more than 100 signatures on campus during an Earth Day lunch period.
"The betterment and conservation of our environment has been a huge concern for me, even from a young age," said Zwonitzer. "We must realize that whatever toxins are released by an SDG&E power plant pollute the entire atmosphere, affecting everyone, especially local residents where smog and air quality will be hit the hardest."
After an administrative law judge at the public utilities commission issued a proposed ruling against the Carlsbad facility in March, SDG&E quickly withdrew its petition to build a 600-megawatt plant and attempted to substitute a plan for a smaller, 500-megawatt facility. Sierra Club lawyer Matt Vespa had previously told the Reader before the move that the utility had dismissed calls for a scaled-down plant as financially unfeasible.
"Shortly after [the proposed ruling], commission president Michael Picker came out of nowhere and said, 'We need to give them a gas plant,' all the while ignoring the record," Hasapopoulos said.
"Given the commission's issues with transparency, this turn of events doesn't pass the smell test," added Zahn.
The proposal from SDG&E and NRG, unless a postponement or other changes arise, is expected to be heard by the commission today, May 7.