CPUC: Oxnard Power Plant Moves Forward and Santa Barbara Plant Denied

By Sheryl Hamlin

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) took two actions regarding gas fired power plants in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Consent Calendar

In the consent calendar, a request for Mandalay 3 was denied by the Commission and a contract at Ellwood in Goleta was approved through 2018. These are known as Resource Adequacy or RA contracts, which is a system designed to ensure adequate energy resources. For more detail on this system, click here.


Regular Calendar Item 34 – Puente Power Plant


Meeting video: http://www.adminmonitor.com/ca/cpuc/voting_meeting/20160526/

This item had been continued from the May 12th meeting at which an amendment proposed by Commissioner Florio had been proposed to delay the CPUC hearing on the Puente project until the CEC (California Energy Commission) had completed its work on the environmental review which includes plant siting and environmental justice. Commissioner Florio’s amendment also allowed Southern California Edison (SCE) to refurbish the Goleta plant for future use in fulfilling an energy contract.

In the interim, Commissioner Peterman proposed another alternative. This alternative would have the opposite effect essentially approving the Puente project on Mandalay Beach and denying the Goleta refurbishment.

There were thirteen speakers who spoke opposing the Puente project including residents of Oxnard who had driven to San Francisco for this meeting. Citizens cited unresolved safety issues with natural gas, environmental justice, public health, pollution, false promises by NRG, other toxic waste in Oxnard already, renewable energy options, exploitation of Oxnard, end of fossil fuels, and regressive energy policy rather than progressive policy. A student from Oxnard High School asked “how can you keep polluting Oxnard?” saying “my city deserves better”.

In a surprise move, Commissioner Florio withdrew his alternative motion (34a). Commissioner Peterman spoke at length about her alternative (34b). She noted that the Puente project had already taken three and half years to get to this point and that it takes time to bring power on line. She also said that Edison received no bids other than natural gas for the contract they won previously. It is unreasonable, she said, to require Edison to consider environmental justice at this point because it was not in the procurement specification. As to Ellwood at Goleta, this plant may never be needed, she suggested, if the Puente project (Mandalay) goes ahead. The proposed plant she said does not add, but reduces green house gases (GHG) in Oxnard by 87%. Perhaps by 2050, there will not be a need for such plants, she surmised, but we are not there yet and we must keep the lights on. The Puente plant will operate at only 2% capacity or 172 hours per year, claimed the commissioner.

In the discussion that followed Commissioner Sandoval reiterated that the 87% reduction includes the retirement of the two existing plants: Mandalay and Ormond. Rather than relying on two letters, she said, the commission should ensure the commitment to retire these plants by making retirement as part of the conditions of approval. Commissioner Randolph said that this requirement is implied on page three of the amendment and was concerned about wording of such an amendment and how it might affect the order of closures. Commissioner Sandoval responded saying it was not the intent to change the construction schedule, but to prevent NRG from offering these plants for other future contracts. Commissioner Flores offered a middle ground in the language.

After a break, the commissioners returned with modified language essentially accepting Commissioner Sandoval’s modification to Commissioner Peterman’s alternative. This passed in a 5-0 unanimous vote.

It was noted during the discussion that the citizen involvement in this decision “highlighted a gap in the CPUC process” regarding environmental justice, which should be addressed in the future. Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez of Oxnard was specifically recognized for her work in this area.

Also notable was a statement by Commissioner Flores that the commission can order a plant closed and if it doesn’t have a contract, it won’t operate. This statement is important to the Mission Rock Energy Project (MREC) for which NO contract exists at the present time. And, the Commission’s recognition of environmental justice for future cases could also be applicable for a future review of the Mission Rock plant which is located in an area demographically similar to Oxnard.

36?acre Mandalay Generating Station (MGS) property at 393 North Harbor Boulevard in Oxnard, Ventura County -- Photo California Energy Commission

36?acre Mandalay Generating Station (MGS) property at 393 North Harbor Boulevard in Oxnard, Ventura County — Photo California Energy Commission


For more information about the author, visit sheryhamlin.com

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Received via email …

Hi Sheryl, below is a statement from CAUSE:
Today, in one of the most controversial votes on a power plant in the state, the California Public Utilities Commissioners voted to override the original proposed decision of Judge DeAngelis and approve NRG’s plan to build another power plant on Oxnard’s coast. This is a major setback, but it’s not the end. The commission’s decision stated that the environmental justice issues raised by concentrating polluting power plants in a disadvantaged community– at the heart of the mass outcry over the power plant– should be decided instead by the California Energy Commission. What the CPUC did today was essentially punt the controversial issue at hand to their sister commission, so everything now depends on the decision at the CEC. That’s where we move next, as the CEC will hold a hearing in Oxnard in July and is expected to come to a decision near the end of 2016.
And while the Oxnard community lost the vote today, our two years of organizing brought statewide attention to the lack of protection for disadvantaged communities targeted by power plants, which has begun deeper systemic reforms of the CPUC that will protect other communities like Oxnard in future years.
No matter what happens at the California Energy Commission where the final decision will be made, multibillion dollar fossil fuel companies like NRG can never erase the countless people in Oxnard who have been moved and inspired to join the fight for environmental justice for our community.
-Lucas Zucker, CAUSE Policy Director

William "Bill" Hicks

Another thing to look at is “environmental justice.”


Sheryl Hamlin