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Long-Delayed Gas Plant Repowering Gets California OK

After several years of processing and various starts and stops, a plan to repower an existing natural gas-fired coastal electric generation plant in North San Diego County using a fraction of the 100-acre existing prime seaside acreage was unanimously approved Thursday by the California Energy Commission (CEC). Commissioners set aside possible conflicts with local and state zoning restrictions.

Princeton, NJ-based NRG Energy Inc., a multi-plant operator in California, now can move ahead with it conditioned plans to construct a $500 million, 558 MW gas-fired plant using 23 acres of the existing site for its 900 MW Encina plant in Carlsbad, CA, about 20 miles south of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which is currently idle due to component breakdowns (see Daily GPI, April 25).

Replacement of the existing Encina plant will eliminate one of the state's 20 coastal plants that are not in compliance with California's new once-through-cooling restrictions on electric generation facilities. Construction is expected to begin in early 2014 with commercial operation beginning in summer 2016, a CEC spokesperson said.

After four years, a two-member CEC review committee a year ago provisionally recommended approval of the project in which NRG characterized its long-standing plans as a more environmentally friendly generation source than the current 965 MW Encina Power Station, which has five steam-driven turbines and 400-foot smokestacks (see Daily GPI, May 23, 2011).

The five-member CEC, currently operating with four members, adopted a revised presiding member's proposed decision that determined the case's record, which it said has a detailed environmental impact assessment, was adequate, while placing various conditions on the approval, including "an obligation" for NRG to "plan for and obtain permits" for the removal of the existing Encina equipment, including the 400-foot high exhaust stack visible along the Southern California coast.

The member committee recommending CEC approval of the facility, as mitigated, determined that NRG's project will have no significant impacts on the environment. It also determined that the project's overall benefits outweigh the land use impact and lack of compliance with recently amended Carlsbad land use regulation, a single provision in the state fire code, and possible lack of compliance with the California Coastal Act.

"The Carlsbad project will help ensure a reliable supply of electricity in San Diego by meeting a need identified by the California Independent System Operator," said CEC Commissioner Karen Douglas, who was the presiding member overseeing the project's review in recent years. "It will also reduce pollution by displacing electricity generated by other less-efficient facilities."

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