California backs gas power plant to fill void from closed nuke

MICHAEL R. BLOOD, Associated Press
FILE - This file photo taken June 30, 2011, shows beach-goers walking on the sand near the San Onofre nuclear power plant in San Clemente, Calif. Nearly two years after the San Onofre nuclear power plant , Southern California's last nuclear power plant, was shut down for good, state regulators continue to struggle with proposals to replace power for 1.4 million homes that once came from the San Onofre reactors. (AP Photo, Lenny Ignelzi, File)
Copyright , The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Utility regulators Thursday opened the way for development of a natural gas-fired power plant on the coast near San Diego, perhaps one of the last of its kind in California as the state pushes toward a green energy future.

On a 4-1 vote, the California Public Utilities Commission approved a proposal from San Diego Gas & Electric to buy power from the proposed plant in Carlsbad.

Customers will pay $2.2 billion over two decades for the plant built by NRG Energy, which at full power would be able to light 400,000 homes and is expected to be producing power by 2017.

The approval came less than a month after Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, said he wanted to accelerate the state's push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — to 40 percent below 1990 levels over the next 15 years.

The Sierra Club called the gas-fired plant a step backward in cutting greenhouse gases.

While the governor is pushing for tougher environmental standards, the commission "continues to direct billions of dollars toward outdated energy sources and undermine our state's clean energy future," Sierra Club spokesman Matt Vespa said in a statement.

Commission President Michael Picker described the decision as a tradeoff. He said gas-fired power is needed to maintain reliable electric service while solar and other renewables are developed on a broader scale.

Travis Miller, an energy analyst at Morningstar, said significant, new gas generation is being developed around the U.S., while at the same time there is "this overarching regulatory ... concern about greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel."

"Across the country, we are seeing government agencies at the state, federal and local levels put up a lot of opposition to new fossil-fuel plants," Miller said.

"It's really a mixed bag," he added. "On the other hand we have places around the country where the economics and benefits to consumers are so great new plants are being built."

The decision is part of a strategy to replace electricity lost after the nearby San Onofre nuclear power plant was shut down two years ago. In addition, a Korean War-era gas plant in Carlsbad is expected to close in 2017.

"This is probably the best solution all around, though it's not perfect," Picker said in an interview.

Earlier, an administrative law judge had recommended the commission reject the power plant until rival bids from clean energy sources could be considered. Those bids have not been publicly disclosed.

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