Santa Paula: Tough Stance Against Peaker Plant

By Sheryl Hamlin

The proposed Mission Rock Peaker plant has been looming on the horizon for about two years now. With local meetings of the California Energy Commission drawing hundreds of citizens opposed to the gas fired peaker plant and numerous letters from citizens and the council, the staff of the CEC released a PSA (Preliminary Staff Assessment) of 1200 pages indicating completeness.

The council had previously directed City Attorney Cotti to write a letter opposing the plant. The three points of his letter were: 1) environmental justice, 2) water, both potable and discharge and 3) aesthetics conflicting with a historic agricultural area.

At the December 18, 2017 council meeting, Mayor Gherardi read part of a letter from Arely Preciado of CAUSE, where she stated that Edison will only be asking for bids from renewable sources in Ventura County, which puts the peaker plant in a situation of reduced marketability.

Former Mayor Mary Anne Krause, spoke identifying numerous issues: 1) incomplete PSA (Preliminary Staff Assessment), 2) air quality, 3) water, 4) floodplain construction , 5) change in dynamics with the Oxnard Puente plant on hold, 6) focus on renewable energy by Edison for Ventura County and 7) the State of Emergency makes it impossible for local governments to consider the project. The former mayor’s thorough, detailed statement presented to the council is shown below:

Good evening. I am a member of the Santa Paula Alliance, which was formed to oppose this power plant. I would like to give a big thanks to City Staff for preparing the comments on the Preliminary Staff Assessment. I think it is egregious that Energy Commission Staff decided to issue this 1200-page report at this time. The data needed to move this project forward has yet to be collected and included in this report. The air quality section does not include the emission offsets required to make a decision. This application should not have even been deemed complete without them. There is no confirmed source of water to cool the turbines, and there is no facility to accept the industrial wastewater that results from plant operation. The California Independent System Operator study has not been done. These are all required before the permit can be approved. Why the Energy Commission staff chose to issue the report at this time is very puzzling.

Former Mayor Mary Ann Krause

Among the issues that the City has highlighted, I have a particular concern for the issue of floodplain construction. For decades I have worked with engineers who say that common sense does not apply, that when you allow a development to be built in the floodplain, that it does not force the water elsewhere, onto land that was not previously in the floodplain. Common sense has been vindicated by the tragic events in Houston this year during the hurricane. After many years of extensive floodplain construction with the recommended engineering protections, hundreds of properties that were not previously considered to be in the floodplain were wiped out. Furthermore, despite our particular highlighting our concern for erosion, the Energy Commission staff report does not give adequate consideration to this issue. Erosion is the greatest flood-related threat to the power plant. The overtopping of the banks by deep floodwaters is not nearly as likely to threaten the facility, but that is the primary focus of the flood risk assessment. If anyone remembers what happened to Santa Paula Airport in 2005, that is the type of risk that truly endangers this plant. The relentless pounding of water filled with debris along some portion of the perimeter would be enough to cause a collapse of this facility, the loss of use at a time of potential emergency, a risk of hazardous materials release, and a financial loss that the public might be expected to share the cost of. There is no reason sufficient to justify placing this facility in the floodplain.

Circumstances beyond the scope of this project have changed substantially in the last few of months. At the applicant’s request, the proposed Oxnard Puente Power Plant proceedings have been put on hold while SCE goes out with another request for proposals for an alternative energy facility with storage. SCE has determined that it will not issue a power purchase agreement for a fossil fuel plant in Ventura County, though it may do so from a very small plant in Goleta (a plant much smaller that the proposed Puente or Mission Rock plants). That should be reason enough for the Commission to pause these proceedings. And if it is not, then the proceedings should be paused because Santa Paula and the County are under a State of Emergency declaration due to the Thomas Fire. Many of the people who opposed this plant and would be affected by it, are now dealing with the direct effects and the aftermath of the fire. The Valley will be working on recovery and the mitigation of flooding, debris flow and mudslide threats for some time to come. Local governments should not have to deal with the bureaucratic process for a project that is unlikely to move forward. Santa Paula Alliance is sending a letter to the Energy Commission requesting a 3-month delay. I urge the City to reach out to our State representatives and ask them to ask the Energy Commission to pause this process immediately, and let us all focus on more critical activities.

Thank you!

For previous reporting on the Mission Rock peaker plant, click here.

The council approved the letter from the City Attorney which must be sent to the CEC prior to January 11, 2018.

To read City Attorney Cotti’s letter, click here.

Here is an overview of the situation in California with respect to gas fired peaker plants.

This is the first in a multi-part report on the three hour December 18, 2017 Santa Paula City Council meeting.

For more information on author click sherylhamlin dot com

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