Oxnard Council votes to protest SCE Mandalay power plant award to NRG

By George Miller

Mandalay2 001

Existing vintage 1959 NRG Mandalay plant (Photo: Citizensjournal.us)

In a special  meeting on Tuesday night, Oxnard Council members followed through on their promise to authorize the Mayor and City Manager to take actions to protest the October contract award by SCE (Southern California Edison) to NRG to build a new, much cleaner, high efficiency, quick start, low footprint  262 Megawatt power generation plant. It would be next to the existing obsolete 560 megawatt Mandalay Beach plant built in the 1950’s. The award is for the “Moorpark Sub-Area” and is site specific, due primarily to existing land rights and infrastructure. On November 6, SCE filed for project approval with CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission). A motion to protest the award and take ancillary actions to support that passed unanimously.

 

Name Date Duration Agenda Minutes Video
Special City Council Meeting December 23, 2014 02h 14m Agenda Video

 

City actions:

The Council is not so much upset that NRG won the award, but that anyone did, because they want to eliminate power plants in Oxnard. The Council passed a moratorium on new power plant construction earlier this year while they rework the Coastal Use Plan.

All of this was debated passionately last week, but Acting City Attorney Steven Fisher advised the council at that time that the scope of the meeting agenda did not allow them to vote on lodging a formal protest of the contract award. So, it was necessary to hold this special meeting to do so.

After a brief introduction by Mayor Flynn,  Chris Williamson made a presentation summarizing the work that had been done; namely a protest letter to CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission), a draft motion to become involved in legal action and to do some other research, on applicable procedures/laws, to support the Council’s opposition to the power plant project. The City would also seek to move out the Mandalay and Ormond Beach power plants’ 2020 shutdown date and permit a more expensive power generation solution to be sought, since the protest and rebidding processes would significantly delay the timeline for power generation plans and likely cost more.

By law, the final decision on the project can be made by CEC (California Energy Commission), which we are told can override other governmental entities.  So much for local control.  CPUC granted an extension to the 12-31-14 protest deadline to 1-12-15.

Council comments were very supportive of the protest. They are also very concerned about old plant disposition- facilities tear-down and land remediation if the project does not move forward. There are currently three power plants in Oxnard, totaling about 2,000 megawatts of power generation capability. The 1950’s vintage Ormond Beach and Mandalay plants would be torn down by NRG after 2020 if they were taken out of service and if NRG received the go-ahead to build the new plant. Some speakers opined that NRG is obligated to tear down both the Mandalay and Ormond Beach plants if they are shut down in 2020. Councilman MacDonald stated that he has seen no evidence that they would be obliged to tear down the plants in any case. In fact, speakers have cited examples of several white elephant plants left behind (Contra Costa and an oil processing plant just north, for instance). Tear downs would likely cost tens of millions of dollars.

NRG also has the option of retrofitting plant(s) with compliant cooling systems and continuing to operate them, but it would be an operational and economic stretch.  It can be done, but they previously opted out of that. Instead, NRG would instead employ “H Class frame peaker technology” for  a new plant according to Chris Curry, NRG Vice President, Business Development.

Mayor Flynn, Councilman MacDonald and Perello had advised negotiating with NRG in the eventuality that they were unable to stop the project. Flynn also asked if updating the plan would have pre-empted the plant award. Williamson responded that CEC could still overrule it. But Mayor Pro-Tem Ramirez and some other more militant environmental organizations and speakers were dead set against that. Flynn and Perello previously advocated negotiations. Flynn estimated that the approval or disapproval process would likely take all of next year and that he wants to know what all of the city’s options are. City Manager Greg Nyhoff promised to do just that and pursue the Council’s decisions.

MacDonald also stated that NRG could retrofit a compliant cooling system to keep the plants open, wonders how city can get rid of the old plants, that the eminent domain suggested would entail paying market rates, that the legal remedies to force NRG to tear down plants aren’t evident, but should be investigated.

Councilman Perello noted/lamented light meeting attendance turnout, claimed most scientists go with (man-made) Global Warming/sea rise theory, what are the choices besides NRG building a new plant and tearing down old ones vs. just walking away, that staff should know the options and legalities, that places like Santa Barbara, where he’s from, would never accept a power plant.

Mayor Pro-Tem Ramirez opposes negotiation with NRG, claims that is what lost the McGrath Peaker plant battle, sees a “vision” for Oxnard free of power plants, believes that sea rise would inundate a new power plant, in spite of climate/sea rise models all being proven wrong by actual conditions, says it will take “political will” to stop the plant.

 

Public speakers largely supportive of protest:

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Oxnard Council chambers just before scheduled meeting start time 6 PM 12-23-14. Only a few more arrived after this. Mayor Flynn estimated 70 in the room. (Photo: Citizensjournal.us)

The overwhelming majority of speakers supported the Council’s opposition to the project and the protest to CPUC. This was possibly helped along by, as a supporter asserted at the meeting,  “(Mayor Pro-Tem) Carmen (Ramirez) wanted heads here.”  It is common for certain organized groups to pack meetings to give the impression that “The People” support a given position.  Based on our own informal discussions with many people, we don’t doubt that sentiment is against a replacement plant, no matter how clean, no matter how small the footprint, no matter how economical, etc.

Local residents, an NRG representative, environmental and pressure groups, spoke at the meeting. Turnout wasn’t what some expected and hoped for, but the outcome was pretty much a foregone conclusion and it was, after all, two days before Christmas. Some speakers: Diane Zuniga, Marcos D.- CAUSE; Bill Terry; a Julie Brownley representative; Carla Castilla, a Hannah-Beth Jackson representative; Nancy Pederson; Kevin Ward; Taylor Canfield-NRG, Joseph Contaoi; Helen Conly; Karen Brooks; Julie Pena; Diane Delaney; Martin Jones; Joanne Revadid; Robert Murphy; Ms. Andiamo; John Whitehead-VC Climate Hub; Dan Yahoe(?); M. McCormick; Michael Suttlefield- Sierra Club; a representative from Climate Lobby; Judy Sutton; Elizabeth Mumar(?); Thomas Rebecki-Water Watch VC; Bob Jefferson; Wayne Keller- Westport HOA; Steve Nash; George Miller; Dan Lechliter; Ms. Suttle or Tuttle- a couple of others whose names we didn’t get- about 30 in all (we’ll improve spelling when we get the minutes).

The previous positions expressed in past meetings were pretty much reiterated- claimed environmental hazards, aesthetics, land use, discrimination against “minorities,” benefits exaggerated. The only new one noted was a tsunami threat. A new remedy suggested was eminent domain.

Project advocates again claimed local grid power generation is better, jobs, taxes, clean energy, lower power costs, old plant demolition covered by NRG, sea rise vastly exaggerated, that polar ice is actually expanding. NRG and advocates stressed benefits.

It was pointed out that it is unlikely that NRG would be foolish enough to build a power plant which would be underwater in a few years and that banks would offer mortgages for homes which would be even further underwater than the proposed power plant and that the city would even permit them to be built there. Ramirez later responded that they are only obligated to protect critical infrastructure and that power plants are critical infrastructure. NRG has twice refused to comment when asked why they propose building the plant there in spite of those claimed risks, but the fact that they are willing to make the investment is an answer of sorts.

 

Reasons stated in opposition to plant at this and previous meetings:

– Would be four plants in Oxnard.

– Aesthetics.

– It is the will of the People and Council.

– Dirty, dangerous, “a clear and present danger”

– Danger of gas explosion

– Discrimination against “brown  people” to build plant here in low income, “minority” community.

– Would discourage tourism.

– Industry doesn’t belong on coast.

– Tsunami hazard.

– River flooding hazard.

– Subject to inundation via “sea rise” (estimates varied from 10 to 100 years to accomplish this), costing rate-payers much money.

– Fossil fuel emissions would hasten aforementioned global warming and sea rise.

– Should do renewable power instead.

– NRG has a legal and moral obligation to remove the two old plants.

Marsh landing

NRG Marsh Landing Plant, Antioch, CA. 800-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant with four 200-megawatt simple cycle units. New plant would be about the size of one of the above units. (Photo: NRG).

 

Reasons stated in support of new plant at this and previous meetings:

– Local grid presence for less likely outages.

– Shorter power transmission distances.

– Plant would be quite clean. Even current obsolete plant is surrounded by abundant wildlife, with no credible claims of illness, etc.

– Plant would have much smaller “footprint.”

– Need baseload, reliable power. Already doing 1/3 renewable for CA- and that is a big stretch.

– Renewable projects moving slower, less productive, more troublesome than promised. Major projects have gone belly up.  Unlikely that 33% mandate for  renewable energy sources will be achieved by 2020, making reliable baseload power all the more important.

– Sea rise is quite minor, “climate and sea rise models” all discredited, Global Warming” not linked to any cause and effect. North pole melting has almost zero effect on sea rise and is no longer melting. South polar cap is actually expanding. Climategate. 30,000+ scientist “deniers” signed letter.

– Go with NRG plan, end up with only two plants, old, dirtiest ones disappear.

– NRG would tear down old plants, clean up sites- a huge savings and environmental beautification.

– Economic benefits.

– CA CEC makes final decision.

– We should push for beach facilities on site, Current beach already clean, usable, utilized.

– Places like Morro Bay are great tourist attractions, in spite of large old power plant.

– Negotiate with NRG while we still can.

 

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New Acting Assistant City Manager Scott Whitney (blue shirt) attends his first Oxnard City Council meeting as a civilian. He is an Assistant Police Chief. (Photo: Citizenjsjournal.us)

 

Supplemental information:

Protest Draft Document: Protest and Resolution (pdf 419 KB)

Previous articles

https://citizensjournal.us/nrg-wins-sce-contract-to-build-power-plant-at-mandalay-beach-oxnard/

Oxnard power plant operator tells its side of the story on …

 

George Miller is Publisher of Citizensjournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant, active in civic affairs, living in Oxnard.

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Everett
Everett
5 years ago

Wondering who for Oxnard has the lead for investigating similar facilities.