At the end of 2017, the Encina Power Station in Carlsbad is set to close, removing 965 megawatts currently available to the grid.

To make up the shortfall, the plant’s owner, NRG Energy, received permits in 2012 for a new gas-fired plant, which was supposed to open at the end of this year. In 2015, as the plant was going through final approvals, the owners modified the plant to run at peak times only, and the Public Utilities Commission granted final approval without hearing bids from alternative energy providers.

inewsource reports that while the plant has been tied up by lawsuits, the new peaker plant will result in a much dirtier operation than the continuous power plant was originally permitted for the site on the Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

“Engineers changed the plant design to one that will be both more flexible, and more polluting, hour for hour, than the original approved design,” inewsource’s Ingrid Lobet writes. “Hourly pollution rates when the plant is running full bore will be higher ‘for all pollutants,’ according to the staff assessment by the California Public Utilities Commission.”

While that means more smog-forming and particulate emissions, it also includes greenhouse gasses at rates 25 percent more per hour of operation, according to inewsource.

The project still faces litigation, and an NRG spokesman told inewsource the plant would open at the earliest by the end of 2018.

Sacramento Looks to Turn Up Pressure for More Housing

As Encinitas readies its next attempt at developing a housing element, Sacramento is dialing up the pressure on scofflaw cities.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, who represents San Francisco – which like our own county, faces a housing shortage – introduced SB 35, a bill that provides a heavy stick for cities that haven’t complied with regional housing goals.

Wiener released more information on the proposal last week, and it provides streamlined permitting for projects in cities that aren’t meeting their Regional Housing Needs Assessment targets.

Cities that are failing to build low-income housing, for example, would be susceptible to streamlining for projects that include low-income housing.

The bill would require individual projects be at infill sites, pay union wages to its builders and meet local height and setback requirements. Market-rate projects would also have to meet local inclusionary requirements, or set aside 10 percent of the units for affordable housing, whichever is larger.

Encinitas is the only city in the county that has failed to adopt a housing element, meaning the city hasn’t shown where it will increase density to allow for nearly 1,100 more homes and would be vulnerable to change proposed by SB 35.

Other cities have met their requirements, like Oceanside, which had to allow 6,200 homes, but just haven’t seen enough development to actually build all those units. Vista, meanwhile, was required to build 1,400 homes, but the city actually built over 2,000 in the past few years.

The Regional Housing Needs Assessment works in eight-year planning periods, and all cities will receive a new requirement in 2021, which would be added to any unmet targets.

Encinitas is still trying to meet the period that started in 2013, and Mayor Catherine Blakespear is aware of SB 35, and another bill that would provide money for the attorney general’s office to go after cities that aren’t meeting the state mandate.

“The stakes are even higher for cities that don’t have housing elements,” she told The Coast News.

Rep. Hunter Steps Around Campaign Finance Laws

In the Union-Tribune’s latest coverage of Rep. Duncan Hunter’s personal use of his campaign funds, reporter Morgan Cook reveals that part of the money the congressman paid back to his campaign was for his daughters’ Irish step-dancing competitions.

Beyond just paying for those garish wigs, the expenses related to the feiseanna highlight the degree to which Hunter’s personal and political lives are intertwined, calling into question whether Hunter has paid back all his personal expenses to his campaign, Cook writes.

In some instances, Hunter repaid costs for travel and meals, like $633 to a hotel in Phoenix, when his daughter danced in a competition there. In others, similar expenses weren’t repaid, even when the dates and locations coincided with his daughters’ competitions.

Hunter spent $219 at the Westin Hotel in Los Angeles, where his daughters danced, but Hunter’s chief of staff told the Union-Tribune the trip also included an official event, “for the ease of scheduling.”

One expert on campaign finance and government ethics laws said expenses like that should remain clearly separate.

“You can’t just use campaign funds to pay for personal expenses by dreaming up a hypothetical way in which the expenses are related to your duties as an officeholder,” Brett Kappel, a D.C. attorney, told the U-T. “It has to be concrete.”

Also in the News

 Interfaith Community Services received a $3.2 million gift from the late Joan and W. Lee James, of San Marcos, which will go toward building a center for people struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. (KPBS)

 A controversial addition to the upscale Bressi Ranch neighborhood, including new shops and 125 new homes, was greenlighted by the Carlsbad City Council. (The Coast News)

 Encinitas wants a citywide quiet zone and to study putting the railroad tracks beneath grade. (The Coast News)

 The Union-Tribune provides a glimpse into the lives of North County’s homeless.

 A second court has sided with Solana Beach and the developer behind The Pearle, upholding approval of the 10-home affordable housing project. (The Coast News)

 Del Mar’s Planning Commission will weigh in on vacation rentals. (The Coast News)

 A Carlsbad golf manufacturer is hoping to upend the sport with a one-size-fits-all club. (New York Times)

Ruarri Serpa is a freelance writer in Oceanside. Email him at and find him on Twitter at @RuarriS.

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