California Agency Opposes New Gas-fired Plant

Two members of the California Energy Commission (CEC) on October 6 said they would recommend the full five-member group oppose construction of a new natural gas-fired power plant in Oxnard. The two commissioners said environmental impacts of the plant could not be mitigated, and the plant would not be able to conform to local ordinances and other regulations.

The commissioners, who act as a two-member committee of the CEC, wrote “We acknowledge that this statement is unusual” as they said the commission should deny approval of the Puente Power Project, or P3, which is being developed by NRG Energy. The $300 million, 262-MW plant is being designed to replace two units of the Mandalay Generating Station in Oxnard that have used seawater for cooling, which violates a State Water Resources Control Board rule. A third unit at Mandalay that does not use seawater will continue operating.

The Mandalay facility on Mandalay Beach was built in 1959. It is currently used as a peaking plant, operating only when electricity demand spikes. The state has said the two units that use seawater must be closed by year-end 2020 due to environmental regulations.

The P3 project has been approved by California’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC), but has been opposed by environmentalists, the California Coastal Commission, and the city of Oxnard. Opponents say the plant would harm coastal wetlands and dunes and negatively impact air quality, and have said the project should instead look at using renewable energy sources. The two-member committee cited an August report from the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), the state’s grid operator, that said solar and other renewable sources could be used in the project to meet expected electricity demand, while acknowledging those sources could be more costly than natural gas.

Houston, Texas-based NRG Energy has said P3 would be a bridge power source for the area until plans can be made for renewable energy options. Spokesman David Knox issued a statement October 7 saying “We believe the record fully supports the approval of Puente. NRG favors California’s move to a carbon-free electrical grid, but remains concerned about local reliability during the transition.”

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor. (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine)