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Victory for Quail Brush Foes: PUC Denies Power Contract for Peaker Plant

Save Mission Trails and other activist groups were out in force for Thursday's commission hearing.

Updated at 3:15 p.m. March 21, 2013

In a victory for Santee and other critics of a proposed local power plant, the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted 5-0 Thursday to deny the power purchase contract for Quail Brush and Pio Pico power plants at a San Diego hearing.  

The decision doesn’t put a nail in the coffin of Quail Brush—a “peaker plant” project opposed by the Santee City Council and other public agencies.

The California Energy Commission can still approve the construction of Quail Brush, but the plant wouldn’t be able to sell power to San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

The issue at hand during Thursday’s hearing at the County Operations Center in Kearny Mesa was: Is there a need for more power in San Diego’s grid?

The PUC’s answer to this question came in a unanimous vote that decided more power plants won’t be necessary in San Diego County until 2018, when a 298-megawatt need may materialize. The commission decision did approve the repower of the small Escondido Energy Center.

SDG&E is required to either issue new Requests for Offers to meet the remainder of its 298-megawatt need, or to submit a renewed application that better matched the timing issue or demonstrated a different showing of need for either Pio Pico Energy Center or Quail Brush Power, according to the CPUC.

Santee City Councilmember Jack Dale responded to the vote with gratitude to "Santee citizens in orange" and others "who  fought the good fight to prevent the city from being subject to the adverse effects of this facility.”

“I would have preferred for the PUC to dismiss the entire Qual Brush idea for good," Dale said. "However, we have five years as a region to use alternative energy sources to replace the dirty fuels that produce energy today."

Opponents of Quail Brush, many dressed in orange, filled the audience at the hearing—the color worn by the Santee-based Save Mission Trails activist group.

They held a rally with other critics before the hearing, and many spoke before the commission in opposition to the plants, as did San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, Santee Councilman Jack Dale and East County Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

"Today’s rejection of Quail Brush is not only a victory for the environment, it’s a victory for our community," Jacob said in a statement. "It sends a message that San Diego County shouldn’t rely on old-school, power plant technology and that we can accelerate our efforts to develop renewable, cleaner forms of energy, like rooftop solar and fuel cells."

After the vote many opponents to the plants chanted that the PUC punted the projects down the road, as the door is open for these same power projects to come before the PUC again in a few years.

The plant, classified as a “peaker” plant, would be used to supplement SDG&E’s available power in case of heat overload or blackouts on the overall system.

Cogentrix, the North Carolina-based company that wants to build the plant, has said it would run at only 43 percent capacity, and would be entirely natural gas-fired.

CPUC officials said the increased rates for buying the extra power at least five years before it is needed would be unreasonable to ratepayers.

"It's only natural to look at these projects and conclude that they might help address not-yet-defined future problems. However, as tempting as it may be, I think this is the wrong approach," CPUC Commissioner Mark J. Ferron said. "We run the risk of paying for new generation twice -- once now and a second time if we have different, conflicting, future information."

City News Service contributed to this post.

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