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California Siting Panel Recommends Against Coastal Gas-Fired Power Plant

With alternatives that are deemed cleaner and technically feasible, a natural gas-fired replacement generation plant along the Southern California coast is being recommended for rejection by a California Energy Commission (CEC) siting committee.

NRG Energy Inc.'s $300 million project to replace two of the three generation units at its Mandalay Generating Station in Oxnard, CA, is aimed at replacing an old seawater-cooled coastal plant. The proposed rejection of the project would mark a swing away from new gas-fired power generation in a state with aggressive climate change goals.

The CEC's two-member presiding member committee has not issued a formal proposed decision for the project, but committee members recently issued a statement in which they said they intend to recommend denial of the project to the full five-member commission.

The two commissioners -- presiding member Janea Scott and Karen Douglas -- said they found the Puente project "inconsistent" with several laws, ordinances, regulations and standards and likely to create "significant unmitigable environmental effects."

There is no timeline for the committee's proposed recommendation, a subsequent hearing and the full commission examining the project. That will kick in once the committee members publish their proposed decision, a CEC spokesperson told NGI.

Last year, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved NRG's plans for the 262 MW Puente Power Project as a replacement for the Ormand Beach (1,516 MW) and Mandalay Bay (560 MW) gas-fired, seawater-cooled baseload generation plants by the end of 2020. CPUC approval came over opposition from local residents and elected officials in Oxnard.

In addition to the Puente project, Princeton, NJ-based NRG has two other sites involved in various regulatory and legal proceedings for replacing existing water-cooled, gas-fired baseload plants along the Southern California coast: a second one in Ventura County and the other in North San Diego County.

NRG is pointing to a resolution of legal challenges to convert the Encina Plant site in San Diego County to an array of fast-start gas-fired peaking units by the first quarter of 2018, and it is targeting replacement of some 2,076 MW of baseload plants at two sites in Ventura County into a similar peaking array by the start of 2021.

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) informed the CEC last month that there are "preferred resource alternatives" to the Puente project that are technologically feasible, and that the projects' economic viability can be ascertained through a new request-for-offers (RFO) process. CAISO also said the RFO process would need to be expedited.

An expedited process would ensure that "Mandalay facilities retire in accord with the state Water Resource Control Board's policy" on the use of seawater for coastal power plants, the CEC siting committee members said.

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