Adding Up Polluting Megawatts is Subtracting from Our Future

Encina (3)


August 20, 2014

By Shana Lazerow, CBE Legal Director

The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) spent months considering the facts about how make sure San Diego lights stay on without the 440 megawatts (MW) that the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) used to provide.  In its final decision, with which I disagreed, the PUC concluded that San Diego could use between 200 and 800 MW.  At least the final decision was clear: at least 200 MW would be renewable resources, and the other 600 would be open to all sources, including renewables and gas.

Doing basic math, however, I have to say, electricity procurement in San Diego does not add up.  Here is the equation:

–          Subtract 440 MW of greenhouse-gas-free electricity from San Diego (SONGS);

–          Buy 600 MW of new, GHG-emitting gas-fired plant (Carlsbad)

–          Buy 200 MW of renewable electricity

–          Buy a flow-control fix (Imperial Valley Flow Controller) to reduce local need between 400 and 840 MW

All this adds up to a failure—a failure to provide an electricity system that works today will work tomorrow.  Why?  Because someone believed the myth that California has suffered, or may suffer power outages due to failure to buy new gas plants.  Because of this myth, SDG&E was given permission to enter an exclusive contract for 600 MW of gas, meaning nothing would be left for all-source competition, and guaranteeing that a single power plant, NRG’s Carlsbad plant, would be authorized.

Even if the myth were true, San Diego has been on a constant gas buying spree, even without taking the retirement of SONGS into consideration. Despite the facts showing it was not needed, and serious community opposition due to health and environmental impacts, the PUC just approved the 305 MW Pio Pico gas-fired plant.  The PUC approval was based on the expectation that the old Encina plant would retire, and need to be replaced with 298 MW of the specific type of generation Pio Pico offered.  SDG&E has also recently added 45 MW of gas-fired generation (Escondido Energy Center) and 96 MW of gas-fired generation (Orange Grove.)

All this bad math and myth-based reasoning adds up to a big loss for the future.