Santa Paula: Council Hears Citizen Objections to Proposed Power Plant

purchase arial, drugs sans-serif; font-size: 12pt;”>By Sheryl Hamlin

physician arial,sans-serif; font-size: 12pt;”>An item about a proposed peaker plant in the Mission Rock area brought citizens to the Santa Paula City Council Meeting of March 21, 2016.


Near Term History

In July 2015, the CPUC(California Public Utilities Commission) came to Oxnard to hear citizens’ concerns about the proposed Mandalay power plant replacement in Oxnard. As this article from July 17, 2015 shows, there were more in opposition than supporting the Mandalay replacement in Oxnard at the CPUC meeting. At this same CPUC meeting, Santa Paula Council Member Jim Tovias submitted a testimony via a representative opposing the Oxnard location in favor of a location near Santa Paula in the Mission Rock area. His CPUC testimony is here. The prospect of the Mission Rock Site was mentioned previously here in this July 24, 2015 article.

The Santa Paula site is one of six alternative sites under consideration by the Oxnard Planning Division for the Mandalay Replacement. It is not clear how the Mission Rock site became part of the set of alternatives for the Mandalay site because according to NRG, the site has many deficiencies. A summary of these deficiencies is shown below and the entire report may be read here.

  • The Mission Rock Site is less than 10 acres
  • The site requires a new 3 mile long 220 k-V (kilovolt) transmission line to the nearest substation (Santa Clara)
  • The nearest natural gas connection requires a 3700 foot linear.
  • The site is too close to “sensitive receptors”.
  • Proximity to socially disadvantaged communities
  • The site is .25 mile within the Santa Clara River, a designated critical habitat, thus the proximity to the river “elevates” the onsite biological constraint.
  • Construction would increase soil disturbance.
  • Potential visual impact because surroundings (low commercial and agricultural land) are low relative to height of proposed plant.
  • This site is in the FEMA-designated 100-year floodplain; therefore, potential flooding risk is greater than others.

It is worth noting that the “proximity to disadvantaged communities” has moved to the forefront for the Mandalay Beach replacement with the CPUC putting its decision on hold, until the “social justice” issue of citing power plants in disadvantaged communities is resolved. Such a decision could also apply to the Mission Rock site.

What has never been explained to the public was the process by which the Mission Rock site became an official “Alternate Site” by the Oxnard Planning Division and subsequently under consideration by the State. Supervisor Long wrote this letter supporting the Mission Rock site on August 26, 2015. In 2014 the County Supervisors granted a non-exclusion lease to the Mission Rock Energy Company for county land next to the Todd Road Jail.

In the March 21, 2016 council meeting, Mayor Hernandez mentions that he met with Calpine in 2014 for a “concept meeting”. The Santa Paula times reported that former council member Fernandez requested this be brought as an agenda item in 2014, but it never appeared on the public agenda, according to the Santa Paula Times. Could this have been a Closed Session item?

City Manager Fontes explained that Calpine bought the land in 2013 but was unsuccessful in winning the SCE (Southern California Edison) energy bid, so at this point there is no project and he does not recommend council action at this time unless “the Oxnard location falls through”. Calpine has filed an APC (Application for Project Certification) without an energy contract associated with it. Mr. Fontes’ statement presumes that the contract won by NRG would be transferrable to Calpine, but this is unlikely without another public bidding process. In exploring the published documents, there may be another alternative that would yield two plants in Ventura county.

It is important to note that Mr. Fontes’ report did not explain that there are two CEC “siting projects” (Puente and Mission Rock) wherein the Mission Rock site is under consideration. The documents for both projects may be viewed here. Citizens wishing to comment on Mission Rock should use the e-commenting feature on both projects.

Energy Market

The bidding process was not discussed at the council meeting. In 2015 SCE issued an RFO (Request for Offers) to supply LCR (Local Capacity Requirements). The winners were announced here. NRG won two contracts worth 316 MW. 262 MW will be dedicated to the Mandalay replacement. NRG has improved its bid by offering to remove the aging Mandalay and Ormund plants, if they win agreement to build the new Puente Power plant on land near the existing site.

However, this leaves the remaining 54 MW of LCR power contract to be delivered, a contract which NRG won and is contractually obligated to deliver. It was thought that the Ellwood plant in Goleta could be the incremental source, but this document makes Ellwood doubtful as an incremental source, although it was approved for refurbishing.

Could NRG and Calpine combine forces to build a 54MW plant at Mission Rock? There are smaller plants on the east coast. NRG and Calpine are competitors, although at one time NRG tried to acquire Calpine.

Council Commentary

Council Member Gherardi, who was instrumental in putting this item on the March 21st agenda, spoke with the CEC saying that Santa Paula is the closest to this proposed project and with the recent sewer explosion, there are safety concerns. Noting that the April 1st deadline is tight, the CEC gave the city another month, so the city is soliciting questions and concerns.

Note: Citizens who wish to submit comments should use the CEC e-commenting system for BOTH of the above projects by April 1st, which is still the official deadline.

Council Member Gherardi also cited issues with visual impacts and traffic problems, but she says that now the city is “at the table” in this long process. The CEC said that the city was not notified because the proposed plant is not inside the city boundaries. Mitch Weinberg, director of strategic origination and development for Calpine, called Council Member Gherardi “livid” at Santa Paula’s exclusion in the process. The mayor has asked Mr. Weinberg to attend the April 4th council meeting to present the project. Council Member Gherardi stressed that the CEC is looking for issues to study in this phase of the analysis.

The Mayor explained that his recent letter to the editor had several errors, notably that the county transportation staff was notified and has submitted a letter, which can be viewed at the above link for the Mission Rock project.

Council Member Tovias complained that “no one contacted him” for the full story, saying “when the time is right, I will explain the entire story”.

Citizen Commentary

Eleven citizens including four Santa Paula High School Students, spoke against the project.

Maricela Morales, Executive Director for CAUSE, spoke of her organization’s opposition to new fossil fuel projects, which are primarily located in low-income communities. She said energy companies prey on low income communities. Oxnard and Santa Paula, two cities at the low end of the economic spectrum, will provide the most power for the county.

Nate Pidduck made this statement:

My name is Nate Pidduck, I was born and raised in Santa Paula and my family has lived and farmed in this valley for 5 generations. I went to Santa Paula High School and have an Environmental Studies Degree from the University of California. I urge Santa Paula City Council to strongly oppose the Mission Rock Energy Center. I ask the council to focus on the facts and science behind this outdated and inefficient technology and not be misled or swayed by the unsubstantiated and often never to be seen “promises” of future “philanthropic benefits” that will be directed to Santa Paula if they support this peaker power plant. I ask the council to focus on the danger this plant will be and the harm it will cause any future positive growth to Santa Paula, focus on the air pollution rates that will increase over Santa Paula, focus on the public health harm that increased particulate matter in the air will cause including asthma, focus on the 24 hour light pollution that will illuminate the entire valley, focus on the science. The rest of California is moving away from this type of outdated, inefficient and dangerous gas fueled peaker power plant technology.

He also chided Council Member Tovias for his support and Limoneira for facilitating the project with water.

Sheryl Hamlin explained the 316 MW NRG/SCE energy contract, the e-commenting system on the CEC site, the refusal by Moorpark to accept a peaker plant, and noted a statement by Calpine that SR1 126 and Foothill Drive are eligible for designation as “scenic drive” which has not been done, evidently as justification for Calpine’s obstruction of views in these areas.

Phil White, Mechanical Engineer and President of AE Group in Ventura, who was born and raised in this area, urged the council to promote responsible alternatives. He suggested “Solarize Santa Paula”. Previously he was director of the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District and said that these plants are a major new source of oxide, nitrogen and particulates. The county exceeds Federal and State standards in air quality measurements. Oxnard’s city council has spoken up, he said, and so can Santa Paula.

Gail Pidduck, a member of a multi-generational family of Santa Paula, said she was born on the little hospital on Main Street. The community had been left out while some worked to make outdated peaker plants a reality and, in fact, such plants are considered outdated even by Edison. She said stakeholders had expressed disappointment to Harold Edwards, CEO of Limoneira, who has agreed to provide the recycled water for the proposed Mission Rock peaker plant.

Maria Elena Terrazas, a junior at Santa Paula High School, is against the project and said that PM10 cannot be filtered, so will go into the lungs and affect children playing outside. She also mentioned that the proximity of the plant to the Santa Clara river is detrimental. She suggested alternative energy projects such as solar and wind. Maria is a school athlete and has spoken previously at council on obesity.

Nicole Enrizuez, a senior at Santa Paula High School and an officer in SESPEA (Students Encouraging Social, Political and Environmental Action), said they had been working to clean up the river and this project could negate their progress. Citing the state’s mandate of 50% renewable by 2030, she said this plant would not fulfill this goal. Saying they look and smell “ugly”, we should not pit Santa Paula against Oxnard.

Mirelle Vargas, a Junior at Santa Paula High School and another SESPEA member, said that they are working with the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy to preserve the river. The proposed plant is too close to the river, she said. Their group has also worked on SOAR signature gathering and the plant would detract from the agricultural efforts of SOAR. She also cited the explosion at Porter Ranch. Despite low income status, we should not let this plant happen.


Larry Renteria, junior at Santa Paula High School, said this plant would be an “eyesore” in an area with “rich history of beautiful agricultural lands”. He said that as an athlete, the pollution makes it harder to perform and bad for developing children.

Jim Procter thanked the council for bringing this issue to the public and noted that “no one else is clamoring for this kind of project near where they live”. We should discuss such things with transparency, he said. Some questions for Mr. Weinberg would be: 1) how many tons CO2 will it emit annually, as well as other greenhouse gases, noting that air pollution knows no boundaries; 2) what other carcinogens are emitted; 3) what is the effect on property values; 4) how will this project delay transition to clean energy; 5) what are the ultimate health effects?

Jim Castro thanked Council Member Gherardi for providing the transparency to discuss the plant. He mentioned the presentation by Ms. Talia Wunder about tourism and the beauty of the valley. Saying that this area has already received “presents” in the form of a dump and a jail and now may get an even bigger “present” in the form of a peaker plant that will light up the whole valley. He said that Adams Canyon will have a perfect view of the power plant at night and the seagull path from the ocean to the dump. There are scientific and social reasons to oppose the plant, he said, and noted that all age groups are represented in the meeting tonight. Each person in the community is a stakeholder, he reminded the audience, and ended with “Mission Rock is a bad idea”.

Recent Developments

At the Limoneira Stockholder meeting on March 22, 2016, Gail Pidduck passed out a flyer with the following statement:

For 123 years Limoneira’s tradition has been one of generous support of the community of Santa Paula and a reputation for forward thinking. Supplying water for a power plant that will cause air and light pollution and bring with it health issues and other long term negative effects seems to go against this tradition.

Please urge the Limoneira board of directors to re-examine its decision to grant easements and supply water to Calpine for a peaker plant on Mission Rock Road.

The health of the citizens of this valley should be more important than any promised monetary benefits, and certainly more important than increased stockholder benefits.

For more information please see:

Here is a Facebook posting of the event.


Mr. Fontes said the report would be received and filed with all comments transmitted by the company “by any medium” including CD. April 4th the Calpine representative will attend council which will allow council to formulate comments for CEC input.

To view this entire session click here and move the timer to 55:40.


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