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Statement: “Some $22 million in hard cash is available toward demolition or cleanup, a remediation payment by previous operator San Diego Gas & Electric,” The Union-Tribune wrote in an editorial about the South Bay Power Plant on March 21.

Determination: False

Analysis: With the South Bay Power Plant decommissioned and no longer producing electricity, attention has been focusing on how to dismantle the plant and clean up any environmental contamination caused by it, as well as who should pay for that work.

The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board wrote that the Unified Port of San Diego, which owns the power plant site, has $22 million in hard cash available to demolish or clean up the power plant. The editorial identified the source of that money as San Diego Gas & Electric.

That’s not accurate.

The port does have around $22 million tucked away in a trust, but not a penny of that money came from SDG&E.

Rather, that money was given to the port by the state of California back in 1999. The state gifted the agency the money to help make the deal happen and for the port to stash away for when the day came to start demolishing the power plant. The state originally gave the port $15 million, but that’s gained interest in the last 12 years and is now $22 million.

This would be just a simple mistake, except that it gives the impression that SDG&E has contributed $22 million towards cleaning up the power plant that it ran for more than 40 years. In fact, according to port spokesman Ron Powell, the company hasn’t given the port anything.

And whether SDG&E is still on the hook for contributing to the cleanup is a bone of contention.

An SDG&E spokeswoman claimed in this story last week that the company was absolved of all responsibility for the site when it transferred ownership to the port back in 1999. But the port says that’s incorrect, and that the cost of the dismantling and cleanup of the site will be split between SDG&E and the current tenant of the power plant, Dynegy.

SDG&E may still therefore be responsible for paying something towards cleaning up some of the contamination it left behind when it sold the plant to the port. So, the notion that it’s already paid $22 million could confuse the issue.

Don Sevrens, an editorial writer at The Union-Tribune, said he didn’t dispute our findings.

Sevrens said he had approached the port several times to try and establish where the money came from, in addition to other questions, but that the port had failed to communicate with him.

As of noon on Monday, the editorial had not been updated or corrected.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Please contact Will Carless directly at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org or at 619.550.5670 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/willcarless.

Will Carless

Will Carless was formerly the head of investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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