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Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007 | The Chula Vista City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to oppose building a new power plant on the city’s bay front and support the existing South Bay Power Plant’s demolition.
The vote could effectively kill New Jersey-based LS Power’s plan to build a smaller power plant on bay-front land being considered in the Chargers stadium push. LS Power had proposed to demolish the existing South Bay Power Plant and replace it with a more efficient plant.
The council’s vote was largely ceremonial. The city of Chula Vista does not have legislative authority over the power plant. The final decision on its future rests with the Unified Port of San Diego, which owns the existing power plant and the land it sits on. Three of its seven commissioners are on record saying the port’s board will follow the council’s recommendation.
The decision is a major step toward freeing up Chula Vista’s bay front, though major work will remain before the existing power plant is demolished.
The California Independent System Operator, which oversees the state’s electricity grid, requires the plant’s operation to maintain 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 reliability label is removed.
Chula Vista council members say they are hopeful the label will be removed and the inefficient power plant demolished by Jan. 1, 2010.
That’s within the timeframe the Chargers hope to build a new stadium. The power plant site is one of several in Chula Vista under consideration for stadium sites. But council members sought to distance themselves from the Chargers on Tuesday night. They avoided mention of the team by name and downplayed any connection between their opposition to the power plant and potential support for a new stadium.
Councilman Jerry Rindone alluded to the Chargers, calling them “other interests.” Mayor Cheryl Cox also referred indirectly to the team. “As your mayor,” she told the audience, “I have no ulterior motive other than to open the bay front.”
The vote to oppose a new plant had been expected, but for a time it appeared in question. Councilman Steve Castaneda said in a Friday interview the council would recommend that no new leases be granted for power plants on the bay front.
But by Tuesday night, the language was not as clear. Castaneda and Mayor Cheryl Cox offered a recommendation that the council “not enter into any contracts or contract extensions that would violate” the steps needed to demolish and decommission the existing plant.
It did not mention the new plant proposal. Castaneda suggested that the LS Power lease be discussed at a special March 8 council meeting. He had not mentioned such a meeting Friday.
The recommendation left some council members confused. Councilman Rudy Ramirez asked several times for clarification of the recommendation’s language; Cox said it clearly stated that building any bay-front power plant would be counter to the council’s wishes.
Opponents urged the council to take a clearer stand, suggesting that the recommendation’s wordiness — and omission of any reference to the proposed new plant — was the result of last-minute lobbying efforts by LS Power. LS Power officials declined comment after the meeting.
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. Kevin Johnson, an LS Power vice president, reiterated that point Tuesday night, asking the council not to oppose his company’s proposal.
The council ultimately unanimously agreed with a new motion from Castaneda: “The city of Chula Vista does not want a power plant on its bay front — old or new.”
“I don’t know that it gets any clearer than that,” Cox said.
Port Commissioner Mike Najera, who represents Chula Vista and attended the meeting, said he expects the port will heed the council’s wishes. The issue is expected to come before the port March 13. Two other commissioners have said they will follow the council’s recommendation.
“This is a great moment for Chula Vista,” Najera said. “This is something that’s long overdue.”
The Unified Port of San Diego purchased the South Bay plant and the 160 acres surrounding it in 1999 with the intent of demolishing the plant and opening up western Chula Vista’s bay front for redevelopment. But when Chula Vista city officials told the port they wanted to retain the financial boost that came from the power plant’s taxes, the port backed off. That has changed since the November election of a new Chula Vista City Council.
“I’m glad the council was clear about what they want, and I’m glad they said it now as opposed to when it may not mean as much,” said Laura Hunter, a spokeswoman for the National City-based Environmental Health Coalition, the plant’s leading opponent.
Making the decision later, she said, may have allowed the replacement plant to have been more seriously considered in plans evaluating potential alternatives to the Sunrise Powerlink, a controversial $1.4 billion power line proposed by San Diego Gas & Electric between Imperial County and San Diego.
SDG&E officials have said they had no plans to buy power from a South Bay replacement plant, because the company needs power to meet peak demand, not everyday demand. Even if the Powerlink isn’t built, SDG&E has said, the company still did not intend to buy power from the plant’s proposed replacement.