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Edison seeks new plant

The utility will appeal Oxnard planners' rejection of a small facility needed for peak demand. City questions the need.

July 13, 2007|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Southern California Edison is seeking to overturn the recent rejection of its proposal to build a small, state-mandated power plant at Oxnard's Mandalay Beach, saying it's needed to accommodate growth in Ventura County's largest city.

After being rejected by the city Planning Commission last month, Edison will ask the City Council for permission to build a $50-million natural gas-powered plant next to a larger existing generating station along the coastline. The council is expected to consider the appeal at its July 24 meeting.

If rejected a second time, Edison could appeal the matter to the California Coastal Commission.

The utility company is building four other 45-megawatt "peaker" plants to use during peak demand periods -- in Norwalk, Ontario, Stanton and Rancho Cucamonga -- as part of a state-mandated program to boost capacity by this summer.

"We were interested in putting them in places where they would do the most good to support the system," said Michelle Nuttall, an Edison project manager. She said Oxnard "is undergoing significant growth, with new homes and businesses as agricultural fields are being converted. The way the transmission system was set up, they are at the end of the line and are vulnerable to system upset."

Edison maintains the small power plants are needed, in part, to protect against a potential earthquake crippling its supply network. At issue in the appeal is whether the city's zoning allows a new power plant to be constructed in the coastal zone.

Michael Peevey, president of the state Public Utilities Commission, last summer ordered Edison to improve its ability to handle excess demand during prolonged heat waves. Peevey said Thursday that Ventura County residents are shortsighted to oppose such needed energy enhancements.

"The plant wouldn't run very often and would have very little air-quality impacts," Peevey said. "It's regrettable, but [Edison is] appealing it and hoping it will eventually be built. But it doesn't look like that's going to happen this summer.... "

Peevey said rolling blackouts are unlikely this year because Edison instituted other enhancements, such as greatly expanding its voluntary demand reduction program. The energy company also has agreed to purchase power from a 260-megawatt plant in Long Beach that will reopen next month.

Oxnard Planning Commissioners voted 5 to 2 on June 28 to reject Edison's plan, after discussing fears that the project's 80-foot smokestack would further encroach on Oxnard Airport's flight paths. There were also concerns about whether the seaside city of 180,000 residents really needs another power plant.

Along with the existing 450-megawatt Reliant Energy plant at Mandalay Beach, the company owns a 1,500-megawatt plant nearby at environmentally sensitive Ormond Beach.

Oxnard Vice Mayor Dean Maulhardt said Edison has "a greater burden of proof" to demonstrate its proposed plant is best located near the Oxnard shoreline. "I understand there's a statewide energy need, but if you want to put it in Oxnard what's the benefit to Oxnard? Prove to me this is the only location you can put it."

Councilman John Zaragoza said the county's largest city has historically been a dumping ground for undesirable land uses: three landfills, since closed; a metal recycling facility, now being considered for federal Superfund cleanup status; and now another power plant.

"Edison is an excellent company and has done a fine job for all of us through the years, but I think the peaker plant belongs in some other location," Zaragoza said. "I'm sure this could be built somewhere else. We just got over opposing [a liquefied natural gas terminal] proposal.... Geez, give us a break."

Opposition to another power plant in the Oxnard area has reached Sacramento.

"South Oxnard has already been disproportionately impacted by manufacturing and industrial uses blighting its beautiful beaches and coastal areas," said Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica), whose 41st District includes Oxnard.

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