The California Public Utilities Commission voted 4-1 Thursday morning (May 21) to approve a slightly scaled-down version of a gas-fired power plant proposed for construction along the Carlsbad coast.
"This decision is just more of the same from the [public utilities commission]. What they did today will lock San Diego into paying for a multi-billion dollar gas plant, a proposal that was drafted behind closed doors," said Sierra Club lawyer Matt Vespa in a release following the vote. "By allowing this gas plant to be built, we are stifling San Diego's clean energy potential, job growth, and ambitious efforts to reduce pollution that exacerbates health issues and climate change."
San Diego Gas & Electric had originally hoped to partner with Texas-based NRG Energy to build a 600-megawatt facility to replace up to 800 megawatts of energy generation lost with the shuttering of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
Environmentalists and other watchdog groups quickly cried foul, noting that SDG&E had received numerous bids to replace the lost power using renewable sources, something it had been instructed to consider as a "preferred" option. The utility refuses to release the list of bids it received in a request for proposals before submitting the application for the new Carlsbad plant.
Utilities commission president Michael Picker stepped in following an administrative law judge's recommendation to deny the project and look again at renewables, penning a revised decision (approved today) scaling the facility back from 600 megawatts of capacity to 500, and allowing the project to move forward.
The decision was not unexpected — earlier this month activists and local officials gathered in Solana Beach to protest the proposed decision. Event speakers questioned the motives of the commission and Picker specifically.
"Given the commission's issues with transparency, this turn of events doesn't pass the smell test," said Solana Beach city councilmember Peter Zahn at the time.
Commissioner Catherine J.K. Sandoval cast the lone dissenting vote against the Carlsbad project, stating that more time should be given to consider greener alternatives, including a further downsizing of the gas plant. She indicated her intention to file a dissent, while environmental groups have already hinted that legal action is in the works.