Wednesday, May 2, 2007 | Another power plant plan has entered the fray in Chula Vista, giving a potential boost to the opponents who seek the demolition of the aging South Bay Power Plant.

The latest proposal would double the size of a small power plant in southern Chula Vista, boosting its maximum electricity output by 48 megawatts — enough power to light 31,000 homes on high-demand summer days.

Plants Galore

  • The Issue: MMC Energy, a New York-based company, has proposed the expansion of a small power plant it operates in Chula Vista.
  • 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. MMC officials say new energy from their larger plant could help reduce the South Bay plant’s importance.
  • The Bigger Picture: The Unified Port of San Diego and Chula Vista City Council want to see the South Bay plant demolished by 2010. But the state requires it to operate to guarantee the region’s electricity reliability.

The proposal from New York-based MMC Energy still faces a lengthy application process before the California Energy Commission and has not yet received support from Chula Vista City Council. But as the company pursues a long-term agreement to sell its electricity to San Diego Gas & Electric, it is touting the $70 million-to-$80 million project as another energy source that would help remove the state-mandated reliability label prohibiting the South Bay Power Plant from being demolished.

“It’s that much more you can pull out of the mix,” said Harry Scarborough, MMC’s vice president of business development.

But some officials are hesitant to embrace the plan as a guaranteed way to demolish the South Bay Power Plant. Ridding the Chula Vista bay front of the massive structure would free up the valuable bayside land for redevelopment. The site has been evaluated as a potential Chargers stadium site, while a $1 billion convention center project is being built nearby.

MMC’s project could help remove the reliability label, said Steve Castaneda, a Chula Vista councilman. “But it’s not a foregone conclusion.”

In early April, the Unified Port of San Diego rejected a plan to build a new power plant on Chula Vista’s bay front. That project was designed to facilitate the demolishing of the existing South Bay Power Plant, which opened in 1960. But port and city officials said they want to keep all power plants off the Chula Vista bay front.

The state requires the plant’s operation to help guarantee the region’s energy reliability. Until a new power source is found, the plant can’t be demolished — tying up land that the city of Chula Vista hopes to redevelop.

The company’s plan highlights the significance within the energy industry of a recent SDG&E request for new electricity sources. SDG&E is seeking 700 megawatts of new energy to meet demand, a competitive process that allows companies to vie for valuable power contracts. Energy companies are wooing SDG&E like nervous suitors. A contract with the company represents a potential long-term financial windfall.

“There’s a whole swirl of project developers out there constantly looking for opportunities,” said Bill Powers, a local engineer who follows electricity issues. “Inevitably, SDG&E will get a big fistful of responses. These folks know if they win, it’ll be a long-term agreement, and it’s of value to them.”

As SDG&E accepts bid proposals, some are popping up publicly. Two companies have been eyeing National City, including the firm that operates the South Bay Power Plant. That company, South Bay Replacement Project LLC, has also evaluated sites in southern San Diego and Otay Mesa, Castaneda said.

The MMC proposal calls for tearing down a 45-megawatt plant at Albany Avenue and Main Street in Chula Vista and replacing it with a more efficient, cleaner-burning 93-megawatt plant. While the plant’s turbines produce less pollution from burning natural gas cleaner than the current plant, Scarborough estimates it would operate about four to five times as much.

The existing MMC plant produced energy for about 127 hours in 2006, turning on only during the region’s hottest days, when extra electricity was needed. A new plant would operate between 400 and 500 hours annually, Scarborough said.

But the project has to clear several hurdles, including the year-long state permitting process, which has not yet begun. Castaneda, the Chula Vista councilman, said he expects the City Council to take a position, though it has not yet.

Castaneda noted his concern that the plant is located about 1,000 feet away from Otay Elementary School and nearby homes. He said he first wants to know how a new plant’s emissions will affect those residents before deciding his position.

Laura Hunter, a spokeswoman for the National City-based Environmental Health Coalition, reiterated those concerns. She said if the plant will be torn down, it should be relocated away from residents. She pointed to a more distant landfill site as a possible alternative.

“Why do we always keep putting these things where they can hurt people? I don’t get it,” Hunter said. “Why are we talking about it across the street from an elementary school?”

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