Given the growing uncertainty concerning an idle nuclear power plant in Southern California, state energy officials Wednesday emphasized the quick response to power load spikes of a new natural gas-fired peaking plant that they approved unanimously.

On a 4-0 vote the usually five-member California Energy Commission (CEC) approved the 300 MW Pio Pico Energy Center in San Diego County on a 10-acre site adjacent to a larger baseload gas-fired plant.

"This power plant will be able to respond quickly and follow load fluctuations in the San Diego area when power demand is high," said CEC Commissioner Carla Peterman, the presiding member of the two-person review committee for the project.

The $300 million project, which is slated to start construction early next year and be operable in May 2014, is sponsored by privately held Apex Power Group LLC, whose principals are in Utah and Indiana.

Apex's Pio Pico Energy Center LLC constructor/operator will build a gas-fired simple-cycle peaking facility. Its site is in an unincorporated area adjacent to Calpine Corp.'s Otay Mesa gas-fired combined-cycle plant.

For most of August California withstood its first major test since the 2,200 MW Southern California Edison Co. San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (Songs) plant had both of its units go down in January. Some mothballed gas-fired units in Huntington Beach had been brought back online this summer.

Both the existing Calpine Otay Mesa plant and Apex's Pio Pico plant hold long-term contracts to supply power to San Diego Gas and Electric Co. The CEC began reviewing the Pio Pico project in April 2011 (see Daily GPI, May 25, 2011).

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