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Saturday, Feb. 17, 2007 | A proposal for a new power plant on Chula Vista’s bay front is expected to be killed Tuesday night.
Chula Vista’s City Council is scheduled to vote on a recommendation requesting the Unified Port of San Diego to reject plans to build a new power plant near the existing South Bay Power Plant.
A majority of council members oppose the new power plant, and say they want to free up the bay-front land for more beneficial uses — including a potential Chargers stadium.
“Pull the trigger,” said Councilman John McCann, who opposes the replacement project. “People have wanted more information. I think I understand the issue enough. We need to make some decisions and not just continue to study and analyze.”
New Jersey-based LS Power has proposed replacing the existing South Bay Power Plant with a more efficient 620-megawatt gas-fired plant that would create enough energy to power about 600,000 homes. The replacement would use technology that creates energy more efficiently and free up 115 acres of bay-front land for redevelopment.
At least three of the five council members have expressed their desire to kill the proposal. City Council members say the replacement could instead be located on less valuable land elsewhere in the city, thereby vacating the entire waterfront parcel. City Councilman Steve Castaneda said he wanted to make the decision now to prevent LS Power from spending more money on a doomed proposal.
“We don’t think it’s a good idea,” Castaneda said. “The majority of us feel that we don’t want to trade revenue for serious health effects to the community.”
The decision would set in motion a complicated process to remove the existing power plant. The existing South Bay Power Plant cannot simply be torn down. The California Independent System Operator, which operates the state’s electricity grid, has given the plan a must-run designation, meaning that it’s essential for maintaining the region’s energy reliability. Though it produces power less efficiently than newer plants, it must remain in place until other power sources are found or the label is removed.
Castaneda said a council energy subcommittee composed of Castaneda and Mayor Cheryl Cox, another plant opponent, will continue working to find alternatives for plant construction within city limits. That would help assure the city and port that the reliability label will be removed, Castaneda said. The existing plant would ideally be dismantled by 2010, he said.
“We are looking very seriously at replacing the power lost,” Castaneda said. “We are very diligent about working with SDG&E and LS Power. We will try to do that to the best of our efforts.”
LS Power has said the most reliable and efficient way to guarantee the larger existing plant is torn down is to build the smaller power plant nearby, allowing it to tap into the existing transmission infrastructure.
News of Tuesday night’s planned vote caught LS Power representatives by surprise. Company spokesman David Hicks said he was not aware of a pending vote.
“I would be very, very surprised,” Hicks said at midday Friday. “That would run contrary to a general conversation we’ve been having with the city about how the (energy) subcommittee would work and general workaday information.”
Opponents lauded the pending council action.
“We’re going to be there and strongly support the mayor and council and urge them to end the era of mega plants on the Chula Vista bay front,” said Laura Hunter, a spokeswoman for the National City-based Environmental Health Coalition. “We can do better and we should do better. It’s a very significant event and I hope their message is clear and strong and unequivocal.”
While the Port District has the final say as the owner of the property, its commissioners have signaled a willingness to follow Chula Vista’s recommendation.
“I would be elated if that’s their feeling,” said Port Commissioner Stephen Cushman, who has supported plans to remove the power plant from the Chula Vista bay front. “The port commission has always tried to respect the wishes of our member cities when they take a stand.”
LS Power had expected to sell power from a replacement plant to San Diego Gas & Electric. Such a contract would be vital to financing the replacement plant’s estimated $400 million construction. But SDG&E said at a January workshop that it does not need power from the South Bay plant or its replacement.