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Thursday, April 26, 2007 | The company that saw its proposed Chula Vista bay-front power plant recently squashed is now considering building a plant in National City.

The South Bay Replacement Project LLC — formerly called LS Power — is eyeing a six-acre former fuel tank site on National City’s bay front that San Diego Gas & Electric once owned. The South Bay Replacement Project says it could build a 300- to 400-megawatt power plant on the site, which would be large enough to power 260,000 homes and allow the South Bay Power Plant to be torn down.

Plants Budding

  • The Issue: Two companies have proposed building a power plant on bay-front land in National City. The city’s mayor says he is willing to hear more.
  • What It Means: Regional officials still have not determined how they will generate enough new power to allow the aging South Bay Power Plant to be torn down. The company that operates the plant says building in National City would allow the old plant to be destroyed, freeing up Chula Vista’s bay-front land.
  • The Bigger Picture: The Unified Port of San Diego rejected a plan to build a similar power plant in Chula Vista, but left room to allow a plant in National City. No formal proposals have yet emerged though, and other sites are under consideration.

It is the only site under consideration that the company has disclosed publicly. David Hicks, a company spokesman, said several other sites are being evaluated but declined to name them.

Building a power plant in National City would be a major step in the effort to transform Chula Vista’s bay front into a tourist destination, while simultaneously boosting National City’s cash-strapped budget. But it would not come without a cost. Critics say a plant’s pollution would further burden a community that already shoulders too much of the region’s dirty air.

The aging South Bay Power Plant, which opened in July 1960, uses outdated technology that doesn’t produce electricity efficiently. But the state requires the bay-front behemoth to continue operating to guarantee the region’s electricity reliability. Until a new power source is found, the plant can’t be demolished.

The South Bay Replacement Project had proposed to build a smaller, more efficient plant next to the old structure. But the port’s board rejected that plan earlier this month. The company is now looking for alternative sites in the region to build a similar plant.

The project’s developers say the site is well-suited for a power plant, because it sits close to major transmission lines, allowing an easier connection into the region’s electricity grid. But they could have competition if they pursue the old fuel-storage site.

Competitive Power Ventures, a Maryland-based power development company, also wants to build a power plant in National City to compete in SDG&E’s most recent request for new electricity projects. SDG&E is seeking 700 megawatts of new energy to meet demand, a competitive process that allows companies to vie for valuable long-term contracts.

Competitive Power Ventures recently opened a West Coast office, and is interested in wind-energy projects as well as traditional fossil fuel-fired plants, according to its website. Brian Kunz, the vice president in charge of the West Coast office, declined to comment on his interest in National City.

“That certainly isn’t public, nor is it something I’d want to discuss,” he said.

Kunz asked the Unified Port of San Diego in early April about leasing port-owned land in National City, according to internal port e-mails obtained by voiceofsandiego.org through the California Public Records Act.

Kunz was interested in building on the tank farm or other tidelands in National City, the e-mails state, and said the company was targeting its project after the port has disposed of the South Bay Power Plant. That’s expected to happen in 2010.

The port, however, is prohibited from discussing any power plant projects with other companies because of its agreements with South Bay Replacement Project.

National City officials were not aware of the Competitive Power Ventures project, though Mayor Ron Morrison said he met two weeks ago with representatives from the South Bay Replacement Project. He said he was interested in hearing more about that concept, which he cautioned was still preliminary. No formal proposal has been made.

“It’s certainly something to be considered,” Morrison said. “We’re going to be open to looking at it.”

The plant would be located at least a half-mile away from the nearest homes, which Morrison characterized as being “a long distance away.” But the South Bay Power Plant is located nearly as close to downwind homes, and it has drawn a years-long protest from environmental justice advocates who say the plant’s pollution has victimized Chula Vista’s poorest residents.

The same argument will be made in National City, where the median household income is $15,000 less than Chula Vista’s. But that is one reason Morrison says the council will consider the proposal — the revenue boost could be significant for his city, which has a $30 million annual budget and has struggled with its fiscal health.

Last June, National City voters passed a one-cent sales tax increase in order to close what city officials called a structural budget deficit. The increase concludes in 10 years, and the city government has been looking for ways to boost the city treasury beyond that. The city’s financial trouble has been a driving force behind its pursuit of a new Chargers stadium.

The South Bay Power Plant generates between $2.1 million and $2.6 million annually for Chula Vista. Morrison said the new power plant proposal — which would be smaller than Chula Vista’s — could generate at least $1 million annually.

“That kind of ongoing money, that’s extra money,” Morrison said. “Right now we could use it.”

Morrison said he hopes the project will provide an infrastructure boost — including potential parking structures — to his city’s bay front. Unlike Chula Vista, which is transforming its bay-front land into a tourism and recreation destination, Morrison said he wants National City’s port lands to remain industrial.

“We realize it’s a working waterfront,” he said, “and it’s going to stay as such.”

Building a power plant on the waterfront would not prevent a Chargers stadium from being built in National City, Morrison said. The plant is not being considered on the same land. But it appears to be close by.

Opponents of the Chula Vista power plant say moving the replacement plant to National City — an even poorer and more predominantly Latino community — does nothing to resolve their concerns about pollution.

“The same things that are wrong with the Chula Vista site are wrong with the National City site,” said Laura Hunter, spokeswoman for the National City-based Environmental Health Coalition. “If it’s a bad idea in Chula Vista, it’s a bad idea in National City. There are still people living downwind in significant concentration. It’s still a load of pollution on a community that’s already heavily impacted.”

But Hunter said she was encouraged that the 300- to 400-megawatt proposal is smaller than the 600-megawatt plant once considered in Chula Vista.

“That’s an easier plant to site away from the population than what they’d proposed before,” Hunter said. “That makes it a lot easier of a job.”

Please contact Rob Davis directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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