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Anti-NatGas Campaign Emerges in California

Anti-natural gas sentiments are emerging in the California regulatory process for determining what to do in the wake of the closing of a major nuclear generation plant in the southern part of the state.

Proponents want renewables and various energy efficiency measures as the replacement for the 2,200 MW San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).

In the latest machinations in California, natural gas appears to have been placed on the environmental hit list previously reserved for crude oil and coal.

A combination of environmental and local community action groups is pushing back against state energy planners, regulators and energy industry advocates for building more gas-fired generation plants close to load centers in Southern California to make up for SONGS (see Daily GPI, June 10).

An example emerged last Thursday at a business meeting of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in San Francisco, where about 50 people turned out to speak to the five-member regulatory panel, the majority of them expressing their opposition to more natural gas plants in the state. That was an abrupt turnaround for a state that has celebrated its heavy reliance on gas-fired power generation in combination with renewables and efficiency programs.

An organization called the California Environmental Justice Alliance recently spearheaded an anti-gas demonstration outside CPUC headquarters.

"Don’t believe the hype: Natural gas is a dirty fossil fuel,” the organization claims on its website. “It is a nasty, dirty, polluting fossil fuel that emits enormous amounts of greenhouse gases.”

Sierra Club California, which works with the alliance on issues, has for years emphasized more renewables and energy efficiency programs in lieu of building gas-fired power plants, Kathryn Phillips, Sacramento-based California chapter director, told NGI. "We want to get more renewables, while reducing coal and natural gas dependency," Phillips said.

What is new is the closing of SONGS, and the response of many state energy officials emphasizing constructing more gas-fired power plants, Phillips said.  "What has heightened the concerns about natural gas is what is happening in the discussion of how to deal with SONGS closure."

Communities where gas-fired plants now operate, or are slated to be built, are calling for "100% clean alternatives," alleging that new gas plants would create more carbon emissions. Further, the community action groups and the Sierra Club say that updated energy demand forecasts indicate the proposed gas-fired plants will not be needed.

"Part of the reason you are seeing a heightened concern is that state officials are pointing toward building a number of natural gas plants unnecessarily," Phillips said. "These plants run for decades and make us more dependent on natural gas, instead of what is now a more affordable reasonable choice -- renewables."

Matthew Vespa, a senior attorney for the Environmental Law Program, said the California Energy Commission recently lowered its projections for future demand,  and replacement power for SONGS should come first from the progress California is making in clean energy programs, including efficiency, distributed solar generation, energy storage and demand response.

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