Environmental health activists on February 6 decried the approval of the Pio Pico power plant by the California Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco the day before, saying that the fossil-fuel-burning plant isn't needed and will add much new air pollution.
“Better options exist, but the commission is choosing, once again, to dump a polluting power plant in a low-income community of color that already shoulders a huge burden of pollution from various sources,” says Kayla Race, policy advocate with the Environmental Health Coalition.
“Solar rooftop panels could provide a clean energy solution for everyone, but clearly SDG&E is not interested in updating its archaic business models or protecting customers, otherwise Pio Pico would not even be on the table.”
Construction on the natural-gas-burning plant in Otay Mesa is expected to begin in April, according to Michael P. King, vice president with the Utah-based Apex Power Group, LLC, which owns the plant. They hope to have it operational by September 2015, he said.
In December, community activists rallied for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's public engagement meeting, and dozens of people from the area and from neighborhoods in Tijuana that may likely be affected spoke in opposition. The area around the plant is listed by the state as among the most environmentally compromised 20 percent in the state, largely due to border impacts.
Environmental justice advocates point out that the area is more than 60 percent Latino and that Tijuana residents downwind from the plant have no say in the process.
On February 5, the public utilities commission approved a rate agreement between San Diego Gas & Electric and the Pio Pico plant, the final obstacle to beginning construction.
"Before we flip the switch, we still need the final permit from the EPA," King said in a phone interview. "We expect that to be finalized at the end of the month — it has been approved."
The Pio Pico plant is called a “peaker,” and is designed to be fired up during peak demand hours — in the morning and in the late afternoon-to-evening times, King said. "We can go from cold to full load in ten minutes or less," he said.
SDG&E has agreed to buy 298 megawatts of the power — at rates that the public utilities commission will keep confidential until June 2017. The power costs — estimated by opponents at $1.6 billion over 25 years — will then be passed on to customers "on an equal per kilowatt hour basis by customer class," the CPUC approval says.
The Sierra Club, the Environmental Health Coalition, and the California Environmental Justice Alliance challenged the CPUC application, saying that power could be obtained through cleaner means and a host of procedural objections were dismissed as improper collateral attacks and not considered, according to the decision documents.