The California Energy Commission (CEC) on Thursday gave final approval for long-stalled plans to transform part of an existing 95-acre oceanfront natural gas-fired generation plant site into a state-of-the-art gas-fired peaking facility and opening two-thirds of the site for future commercial development.

Approval of two amendments by the CEC and earlier approval of the power purchase contract by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) (see Daily GPI, May 27) give life to a hard-fought agreement among Carlsbad, CA, city officials, Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas and Electric Co. (SDG&E) and the power plant owner/operator, Princeton, NJ-based NRG Energy Inc.

“The amendments to earlier approval of NRG’s proposed Carlsbad Energy Center Project address the city’s concerns regarding the coastline, while providing reliable fast-response generation to help meet the region’s energy demands, which were impacted by the retirement of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station [20 miles to the north] in San Diego County,” a CEC spokesperson said.

In addition to increasing allowed generating capacity at the repowered peaking facility, which will support five 100-MW each gas-fired units, the amendments allow for modifications in the proposed plant’s design, construction and operation, along with removal of obsolete facilities, including a 400-foot exhaust stack at NRG’s existing Encina power plant.

“The CEC approval of the Carlsbad Energy Center is an important milestone in helping achieve local, regional and state goals,” said John Chillemi, president of NRG Energy’s west region.

Last year, Carlsbad city officials reached an agreement with NRG to reduced the repowered facility’s profile, remove old facilities and support the city’s long-held goal of returning much of the highly valuable beachfront property to nonindustrial uses (see Daily GPI, April 9).

“Although the revised project’s profile will exceed the city’s height limit, it will be less than the Encina complex and will only occupy about a third of the property’s 95 acres,” the CEC spokesperson said.

With the CEC’s final approval, a Houston-based NRG spokesperson said that when the appeal time period elapses early next year, the independent power plant developer will proceed with the project in 2016. The new plant could be completed as early as November 2017, and the old plant could be torn down within three years after it stops operating, company and city officials said.

“This project will help ensure a reliable energy supply for our region while freeing up precious coastal land for the benefit of the public,” said Assistant City Manager Gary Barberio, who oversees the issue for the city.

Chillemi said everyone is now “one step closer to construction of a lower-profile, more environmentally beneficial plant that also supports the city’s goals of removing the older, larger Encina plant, and redeveloping the beachfront site.” He said the new facility’s fast-start technology “will help ensure regional reliability as it enables greater renewable integration into the California grid,” and supports the state’s climate change goals.