Wednesday, March 14, 2007 | The Unified Port of San Diego rejected a plan Tuesday to build a replacement power plant on Chula Vista’s bay front, a major boost for opponents, but one that still leaves the South Bay Power Plant’s future uncertain.

The 4-0 decision directed the port’s staff to play an assisting role in developing a power plant site off the port’s tidelands. New Jersey-based LS Power, which operates the aging South Bay Power Plant, had proposed building a smaller, more efficient plant adjacent to the existing structure.

Doing so, the company argued, was the fastest and surest way to remove the requirement for the current plant to exist. The state says the South Bay Power Plant is needed to maintain the San Diego region’s electricity reliability.

But the Chula Vista City Council said last month it didn’t want the replacement plant built on its valuable bay-front land, which it hopes to redevelop. The Board of Port Commissioners followed suit Tuesday, directing port staff to draft a resolution pledging to cooperate and assist LS Power in the search for a power plant site away from the bay.

“I think it’s horrible, ugly, awful, terrible,” said Port Commissioner Stephen Cushman, “and it should be gone. I hope we’re going to put the death knell on this thing once and for all.”

The port district owns the plant and the 160 acres on which it sits. It has been leasing the 706-megawatt plant to LS Power, which has proposed building a smaller 620-megawatt plant that would still free up 115 acres for redevelopment — including a possible Chargers stadium. The site is one of several being considered for a new football stadium.

After the meeting, LS Power spokesman David Hicks declined to say whether his company would begin looking at alternative sites. Though the rejection was expected, Hicks said, “we have to go back and think long and hard about what the next move is.”

Though the Chula Vista City Council and port district want to see the behemoth South Bay Power Plant torn down, their actions so far do not guarantee it will happen. The California Independent System Operator, which is responsible for maintaining the state electricity grid, requires the aging plant to operate to ensure local reliability — to prevent the rolling blackouts that paralyzed the region during the energy crisis.

Until new energy sources are tapped, that state-designated reliability label will be stuck on the existing plant, preventing its demolition.

Port Commissioner Mike Najera, who represents Chula Vista, called on Cal ISO, San Diego Gas & Electric and LS Power to work collaboratively to develop a plan to have the South Bay plant decommissioned and demolished.

Chula Vista politicians, port officials and the plant’s opponents say they expect to follow a model pioneered in San Francisco. In the Bay Area, Cal ISO helped develop a specific plan to remove the reliability label on an aging power plant that environmental justice advocates had long fought.

Cal ISO created what it called an “energy action plan” that specifically spelled out projects that Pacific Gas & Electric, the plant’s owner, had to construct to bring new electricity into San Francisco. Once those transmission projects were completed — at a cost of approximately $360 million — the plant’s demolition began.

But no one yet knows how much new electricity must be generated in San Diego to render the South Bay Power Plant unnecessary. That question must be answered soon by Cal ISO and the California Public Utilities Commission, said Laura Hunter, spokeswoman for the National City-based Environmental Health Coalition, the leading plant opponent.

“We need to get serious about what we’re talking about instead,” Hunter said. “If it is new generation, how much do we really need? If it gets built, will Cal ISO pull [the reliability label] off?”

Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox said she and City Councilman Steve Castaneda hope to meet Friday with Cal ISO officials to begin answering those questions.

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