Santa Paula Council and Citizens: Dialogue with Calpine about Mission Rock Peaker Plant

By Sheryl Hamlin

Item 10E on the April 4, 2016 Santa Paula City Council resulted from a large citizen turnout at the March 21, 2016 council meeting opposing the proposed Mission Rock Energy Center (MREC). That meeting was described here and the MREC project application is located here at the California Energy Commission (CEC). The council agenda is posted here (with no staff reports) and the video here with this item starting at 45:50.


It is important to keep in mind that Southern California Edison determines the electrical need (Local Capacity Requirements or LCR) after which it hosts a bidding event attended by independent power producers, such as Calpine and NRG, who supply power on a wholesale basis to Edison. The materials from the last bid are here and the winners are here. Calpine lost the bid. NRG won the bid to supply 316 MW of power to the Moorpark Sub-area. A need of between 215 and 290 MW power was determined for the Moorpark Sub-area (which covers Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties). The map below shows existing stations, but is not to scale. The CEC project for this bid is located here along with its supporting documents. The project name for the official, winning project is “Puente”. Note that part of the CEC “siting process” includes the evaluation of alternative sites and the Mission Rock Energy Center is one of these alternate sites, but it is not evident how the Mission Rock site was added to the official list of Puente alternatives, particularly because NRG, the winner, does not own the Mission Rock property and public bids are not transferable.


In December 2015, Calpine, the SCE LCR bidding loser, submitted its land near Mission Rock to the California Energy Commission (CEC) for CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) Review, according to Mitch Weinberg of Calpine, in the event there is a demand for new power in the Moorpark Sub-Area. The CEC is being asked to certify the Mission Rock location as a site for a potential gas fired peaker plant, although there is no energy contract associated with the Mission Rock site, nor is there any indication that Calpine would win a public bidding process held by Edison.

NOTE: Mission Rock or MREC is a stand-alone project independent of the Puente Project, wherein the Mission Rock location is an alternative site for the Mandalay replacement.

The materials for the Calpine CEC project are found here with a project name of “MREC”. Presumably Calpine paid a fee to the CEC for the CEQA review, but this information was neither asked nor discussed at the council meeting. A subsequent question to the MREC project manager Mike Monasmith yielded the following statement: Calpine’s AFC processing fee was $430,753, which was deposited on the same day the AFC was filed (12/30/15).

Would a business spend $430,753 if it did not feel confident of a potential project coming their way?

Mr. Weinberg said the following about the plant:

  • The plant is designed to provide clean, modern and flexible power generation.
  • Using five (5) aircraft gas fired turbines at 55 Megawatts (MW) each, the engines can go from cold to full load in ten minutes and, depending on the grid’s need, any number of the five turbines can be activated. No one asked about the noise associated with the engine of a 767, which is one of the planes referenced by Mr. Weinberg.
  • The 25 MW battery array stores and delivers 100 MW hours of energy and can be recharged either by the grid or locally.
  • Each generator is synchronized to the grid via a clutch, so with the clutch out, the turbines are disengaged.
  • 2000 MW of retiring power generation in this area is anticipated which he showed as 1600 MW at Ormond Beach and 400 MW at Mandalay, saying that only 15% will be replaced with the current plans, obviously referring to the 316 MW contract won by NRG, his competitor. However, Mr. Weinberg’s number of the retirement of 2000 MW is extremely misleading because the Mandalay plant only runs at 8.2% capacity and Ormond at approximately 15%, which is why Edison only bid for 316 MW of power. There are not 2000 MW of retiring power because it is well known that Ormond has not been used at peak capacity for years. This is a false comparison.
  • Showing an architectural rendering of the plant seen from State Route 126, the plant appears to disappear into the trees because of its color. However, he did not discuss the type of lighting it would need 24 hours a day and what the visibility range would be.
  • As for alternative energy, he said that wind peaks at 11:30 pm, solar peaks at 11:30 am, yet the grid peak demand is at 8:30 pm, so there must be a reliable source for the hiatus.
  • Saying that OTC (once-through-cooling) plants such as Ormond and Mandalay are now illegal and must be replaced, he did not say that NRG has agreed to decommission both plants by 2021 as part of the acceptance of the Puente project.
  • Determining the best point to access the grid yielded the Santa Clara Substation, which is located on Elizabeth near Foothill roads where there are 13 power lines incoming. The route to this substation will be 4.5 miles and partially parallel the Ellsworth Baranca whose eucalyptus trees will mask the new power lines.
  • He said that the connection to Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) would be 2.2 miles and the connection to the water would be 1.7 miles, but did not provide details on easements or visuals along these connections, nor did he mention Limoneira’s involvement in providing the recycled water.
  • Using Google Earth and Parcel Quest, one of his staff members found the site and “cold called” the owner. No Santa Paula official was involved in this transaction.
  • The Mission Rock site is called a “brown field” because it is already used for industrial purposes and Calpine will stay within the existing footprint of the brownfield, although he did not mention that the site is under ten acres, which is considered small.
  • Saying that when he “discussed this project with members of council” several years ago, the proposed plant was 80 feet tall, but now is 60 feet tall with the tanks at 50 feet and the rest at 30 to 40 feet. He did not elaborate on the type of meeting where this project was discussed nor who was present and it must also be noted that at the previous council meeting Mayor Hernandez said he was briefed at Supervisor Long’s office several years ago.
  • As for the status of the MREC application, the CEC has determined that it is incomplete. The plans call for a completion of the application by May 2016, at which point, the CEQA process can begin, which will take about 12 to 15 months to complete.
  • Weinberg expressed regret that the approval process had been unclear and that residents were alarmed about the potential of their plant in the community.

Council Questions

This section begins at 1:08:51 on the video.

Council Member Procter asked about battery storage technology. Mr. Weinberg cited AB2514 which mandates 1000 MW by 2024, so the proposed MREC project is a first step in a new concept. Note that Mr. Procter did not recuse himself from this discussion, as he had during the previous presentation by Limoneira, although Limoneira’s involvement has been publicly available.

Council Member Gherardi asked specifically about the benefits to Santa Paula. Mr. Weinberg said that there will be $3,000,000 in annual property taxes, of that amount Santa Paula School District and Briggs will receive close to $500,000 annually for the life of the project. There will be 300 plus construction jobs and 16 full time jobs. Note that the property is not within the city of Santa Paula, so the tax revenue will benefit primarily the county, which is most likely why Supervisor Long lent her support to the Mission Rock location in 2014, the same year Mayor Hernandez references as the time of his briefing.

Council Member Tovias asked about “The Foundation”, Mr. Weinberg said that they discussed easements with Limoneira in 2013. Mr. Edwards, LImoneira CEO, liked the idea of taking the easement payment into the Foundation, which provides benefits around the county. Thus, by Mr. Weinberg’s statement, the project has been known by significant locals since 2013, although not made known to the public until several years later.

Public Comments

Fourteen citizens spoke in public comments. Highlights of these comments are as follows;

  • Richard Rudman said he would yield his time to local experts.
  • Gail Pidduck formally asked the council to take a position against this power plant and said that “money promised is not always there” and not in the public interest.
  • Nate Pidduck said that all other city councils are fighting this project in their areas. With “protected agricultural lands” (SOAR), proximity to receptors (jail, farmworkers) and the Santa Clara River, there are no reasons to proceed with this project.
  • Karl Krause said this is the “wrong time in our history to build fossil fueled plants”. As Director of Engineering for the APCD (Air Pollution Control District), he said that the use of the term “peaker plant” was a misnomer because it felt based on 2000 hours per year forecasted operation more like a mid-level plant and obviously a replacement for the Mandalay plant.
  • Mary Ann Krause reminded the council that the plant is in the 100 year flood plain. She recalled the 2005 floor which ruined the airport landing, but a peaker plant cannot be easily moved.
  • Nina Danza reported on successful integration of rivers into the economic engine of cities such as New Orleans, Denver, Truckee and Thousand Oaks. The rivers bring tourism dollars and clean business. The Nature Conservancy has purchased land and plans for a Welcome Center on Mission Rock Road. The noise, pollution, light pollution and 100% incompatible.
  • Muriel Vargas from Santa Paula High School and CAUSE said the proposed plant is only 1.5 miles away from Briggs School, near the Santa Clara River and a contaminated site previously used by the Santa Clara Waste Water company.
  • YvonnaMontalvo, a member of CAUSE and a student at Santa Paula High School, said farmworkers and students at Briggs would be harmed by emissions.
  • Samuel Fonce, a student at Ventura College and a member of CAUSE and SESPEA, spoke of the Santa Clara River restoration.
  • Nicole Enriquez from Santa Paula High School and a member of CAUSE asked why not consider alternative fuels since the state has mandated 50% renewable by 2030?
  • Maria Elena Terrazas, a Junior at Santa Paula High School, said that 300 construction jobs are “short term” and the work was not sustainable, noting too that gas leaks cause death.
  • Jan Dietrich from Ventura County Climate Hub spoke of the IEPR Scoping 2016 which said that the model followed the “least regrets siting option”, which takes into account public risks down the line. Instead, she said, all variables must be considered simultaneously.
  • Ron Weikert, small business owner and member of Ventura County Climate Hub, said the project was a couple of decades out of date providing costly energy. He called out Calpine for racial injustice. Noting the introduction of “Community Choice” energy, he said the choice of fossil fuels would decrease.
  • Audrey Vincent said that the Santa Clara is the LAST free flowing stream in Southern California. That, she said, should be worth something.
  • Jesus Torres, Candidate for County Supervisor 3rd District, asked a rhetorical question: what will residents of Santa Paula get out of this?

Responses by Mr. Weinberg

Mayor Hernandez asked Mr. Weinberg to summarize and respond to important points.

Mr. Weinberg said that Calpine will arrange a meeting this summer to get into details. He agreed with Mr. Torres and said there would be a Project Labor Agreement. He responded to comments about the river saying there would be no discharge and that the agricultural land provided a buffer. He said that the site is above the flood line now, but newer data will require them to raise the entire project one foot. He agreed that solar is cheap, but not available in the afternoon.

Council Discussion

At this point, Council Member Procter realized there was a conflict of interest with Limoneira, so left the room. Council Member Gherardi read a list of questions for the CEC. Mayor Hernandez thanked the audience for the decorum and asked Mr. Weinberg to clarify the role of the CEC.

Mr. Weinberg said that the CEC has the singular authority to administer the CEQA and that the CEC does not normally override the community. He also said that attendance at local meetings is important.

Mayor Hernandez cautioned the audience to stay engaged and to stand together. He recommended that Council Member Gherardi’s list be incorporated into the council letter which he will sign and send to the CEC. Note that the list of questions was not a position paper taken by the council, but a list of items to be analyzed during the CEC CEQA process.

Additional Review by California Agencies

It is important to note that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will be reviewing the Puente (Oxnard) project on Thursday, April 7, 2016. Click here to listen. Click here to see the agenda. See item 33 on page 34. The question is whether or not consideration of the “social Justice” issue can delay the approval of the Puente Plant in Oxnard.


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Sheryl Hamlin

Flash: The CPUC delayed the decision on Social Justice with respect to the Oxnard (Puente) project where the Mission Rock Site is an alternate until May 12. This means there is more time to write to the CPUC. Send letters to [email protected] and reference Application 14-11-016.

Sheryl Hamlin

Note, Mr. Procter did recuse himself finally from this meeting which can be seen at 1:51 on the video.