Despite a recommendation from its presiding members’ committee to approve the project, the California Energy Commission (CEC) on Thursday unanimously agreed to reopen the regulatory process for a long-standing proposal by Princeton, NJ-based NRG Energy Inc. to build a smaller natural gas-fired generation plant on part of its existing 100-acre coastal generation plant site in Carlsbad, CA.

In May two more days of public hearings on NRG’s proposal left doubts caused by the level of widening local opposition to the project (see Daily GPI, May 23). Now the CEC has granted a motion from the Center for Biological Diversity to reopen the proceeding and hear new evidence about environmental concerns.

Although state authorities can overrule local opposition, the fate of NRG’s plans remains uncertain following the latest actions by the power plant siting authority. The lead CEC commissioner on the case previously had predicted that a decision could be made this year.

As part of the additional evidentiary hearings, for which no dates have been established, the CEC said it would look at new data on greenhouse gas emissions, cumulative air quality impacts, possible alternative project sites and three gas peaking plant projects proposed by Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas and Electric Co.

The two-member commissioners committee will take the additional evidence on these new issues and consider revising its proposed decision, which was released in May, urging approval of NRG’s plans. It will also accept additional evidence on grid reliability presented by the California Independent System Operator.

Dating back four years, NRG is proposing what it characterizes as a more environmentally friendly generation source than the existing 965 MW gas-fired Encina Power Station, which has five steam-driven turbines and 400-foot smokestacks. NRG wants to replace it with a combined-cycle 558 MW gas-fired plant (see Daily GPI, May 11).

The new project would take up a 23-acre portion of the existing site, and presumably the rest of the highly valuable coastal site could be sold to private developers or to the city of Carlsbad.

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