No new natural gas plants for California?

When it comes to cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, California doesn’t take the matter lightly. In this respect, in fact, the state means business – not that other states and places don’t, mean business (in this same sense), that is. As it happens, in the U.S., California is a proven leader when it comes to adopting clean energy policies. This is highly evident in the state being quite forthright in its quest and finding ways to cut its GHG emissions output.

And, up to this point, in this respect an excellent track record the state has. And, there is no reason to not think this good work will continue.

As a case in point, in the Environmental Defense Center’s “Energy Commission Expected to Reject the Puente Gas Plant Project in Oxnard” press release, the organization announced Oct. 6, 2017 that “A Committee of the California Energy Commission issued an unprecedented statement late yesterday stating that it will deny the proposed 262 megawatt Puente Power project in Oxnard because of clean energy’s ability to fulfill the region’s energy needs as well as environmental concerns. This is a major turning point that comes after a three-year battle by residents, advocates, and the City of Oxnard to defeat fossil fuel giant NRG Energy’s proposed gas plant. The proposed rejection of this gas-fired plant marks a turning point in California’s clean energy revolution and marks a trend in re-evaluating the need for gas plants across the state.”

This isn’t the first time something along these lines has come to the fore. In August 2011, published in the Hanford Sentinel was information about a Hanford, California-sited power plant’s decommissioning after 20 years of being in operation. As originally intended, the plant was to burn coal but opposition to that plan ran high among environmentalists, area growers and townsfolk. In response, the company operating the facility agreed to burn petroleum coke instead, this move considered a compromise by the plant’s owner, apparently. With air quality a serious issue among Valley denizens, it is easy to understand why the coal-burning proposal was rejected. Somewhat along the same lines, a Fresno man had proposed building a county-based nuclear power generating station. That proposal has apparently not gone anywhere – this during a time when state-based nuclear power plants are being decommissioned. It is worth noting that the plugs were pulled on both the Rancho Seco facility near Sacramento and the San Onofre plant located north of San Diego, leaving Diablo Canyon on the central coast as the last or one of the last active (operating) plants in state. However, this too is slated to be shuttered in 2025.

So, being California is staying the clean-energy course it has chosen for itself, it then makes complete sense that the Commission would decide to deny Puente an operating permit. “The Energy Commission’s statement follows a letter from the California Independent System Operator (‘CAISO’), the entity charged with maintaining grid reliability, affirming that alternatives to the proposed gas plant are feasible, and stating that only a request for offers (RFO) can determine the cost of such alternatives. It observed that a RFO would need to be expedited if existing Once-Through-Cooling power plants are to meet their retirement dates. This urgency motivated the Commissioners to take the unusual step of publishing their intent to reject the Puente plant,” the Environmental Defense Center affirmed.

Moreover, the organization wrote: “The City and several local environmental groups presented volumes of evidence during evidentiary hearings proving Puente would cause irreversible damage to Oxnard’s rare coastal wetlands and dunes, and further degrade local air quality for a community already burdened with three coastal power plants. Based on the facts before them, the Commissioners stated that they are ‘unwilling’ to override laws and unmitigated impacts.”

The shape of things to come?

To learn more about the decision to reject and what this could mean for California going forward, see: “Energy Commission Expected to Reject the Puente Gas Plant Project in Oxnard: Unprecedented Victory by Environmental Justice and Environmental Advocates Will Provide New Opportunities for Clean Energy in the City of Oxnard Region,” here.

Note: Article updated on Oct. 7, 2017 at 5:19 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

Image above: Linda Krop

7 thoughts on “No new natural gas plants for California?

  1. I wouldn’t declare victory just yet. There’s a proposal under consideration right now to build a 262 MW gas plant in Glendale right next to the LA river and opposite from the LA Zoo. The 262 MW replaces an old 185 MW plant, but is planned for more continuous operation. As a result, there will be an large net increase in GHGs and certain criteria pollutants. The net increase in GHG emission alone is equal to putting 90,000 new cars on the road in Glendale. A group of us have formed the Glendale Environmental Coalition to challenge this.

    • So, what you’re saying is, there is an existing 185 MW plant. The proposal, then, is to replace that facility with a new 262 MW plant (Disclosure: not sure what “more continuous operation” means in this instance; I am hoping you can provide more specific info. related to this)? If such does move forward, this would indeed be an eye-opening revelation coming to light.

      Are there alternatives to this proposal being considered at this time?

      • The entire plant is a little bigger, but they’re keeping some. The generators they are removing have a capacity of 185 MW* and they are replacing them with new units rated at 262 MW.

        When I say “more continuous operation” what I mean is that the old units are mostly on standby and only generating to capacity during peak demand days in the summer. Two of the four new units will be run almost 24/7 because they are what’s called combined cycle units which are designed for baseload power. So the actual increase in planned generation is much much more that it appears if you just look at capacity. One proof point is to look at their estimate for greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Their EIR shows that expected GHG emissions from the new units will be over 6X what’s coming from the old units (yes, that’s 6X, actually 680%). They are showing a net increase of GHGs of 415,000 metric tons of CO2e per annual, equal to putting 90,000 additional cars on the road. I’m getting all this from their own documents, and have confirmed with insiders.

        * they use the figure 219 MW in their EIR for the units they are removing, but that that is “nameplate” if you know the term. Nameplate is what the units were rated at when originally installed. But these are units from the 1940s-1970s that have a current capacity well below nameplate. The figures I’m using come from their IRP.

  2. Answering part 2 of your question. No, at this time, there are no alternatives being considered. They never seriously studied alternatives (they’ll claim they did but if you look at their efforts you would see it was cursory). We are pushing our City Council to stop this ill conceived plan and hire someone like NREL or E3 to conduct a clean energy alternatives study. (it’s a municipal utility by the way, so the decision is all local and not subject to CEC review – which is fine because we can exert political pressure to stop it here, and we will).

    • Your input is much appreciated.

      About the estimated 6X (680 percent) expected rise in GHG emissions regarding the expanded operation versus the current one, if true, what with California’s goal to reduce GHG in state to 1990 levels by 2020, this would indeed be a contradiction in terms.

      • Yes, it is a contradiction. The utility will say they are purchasing carbon credits or offsets, so someone else is reducing/sequestering in exact proportion to the increase from here. Technically, that’s true, if you trust the cap and trade program, especially the offsets components. Still, cap and trade only accounts for CO2 and other GHGs released in the process of combustion, not the release of methane in the extraction or transportation of the gas, which we know is the bigger problem with gas. That, and the fracking. It’s a real mess. Interestingly, our City Council just signed onto the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda. Go figure!

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