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Oxnard, NRG and Calpine in curious mix over power plant proposals

11/20/2015 | 01:01pm US/Eastern

The energy company that wants to build a new power plant on Oxnard's coast has taken an approach both sour and sweet this week.

On Wednesday, NRG Energy Inc. wrote a letter to a state agency asking it to revoke grant funds the agency had awarded to Oxnard.

On Thursday, the company filed a "project enhancement" with the state saying it now proposes to demolish two 1950s-era units at its Mandalay Generating Station on Harbor Boulevard if its new plant is approved.

A competitor, meanwhile, still has an iron in the fire. Calpine, which submitted a bid to build a power plant on Mission Rock Road outside Santa Paula, has kept the potential site alive with state filings, a project consultant said.

The developments arose as Oxnard planning commissioners prepared to meet Thursday evening to consider possible changes to the city's outdated plan governing coastal development.

Oxnard in 2014 received about $150,000 in grants from the California Coastal Commission and the California Ocean Protection Council for an update of its local coastal plan and sea-level rise analysis.

Those grant funds were called into question in NRG's Nov. 18 letter to the Coastal Commission. The company's lawyers said proposed coastal plan amendments the items headed to planning commissioners Thursday night amount to "a targeted and unlawful attack against NRG" and its proposed plant.

The letter claims the city breached grant conditions and asks the commission to revoke the funding.

NRG in November 2014 won a bid with Southern California Edison to build its Puente Power Project, or P3, a 262-megawatt facility sited next to its existing 560-megawatt Mandalay plant.

Chris Williamson, principal planner with the city who is overseeing the coastal plan update, said none of the grant money has yet been spent. Work completed so far has "all been done on city money," he said.

Regardless of the funding source, Williamson said the city's attorneys think the work is fully consistent with various laws.

"We are simply doing what the state Coastal Commission encourages local governments to do," he said of updating the document.

Noaki Schwartz, spokesperson for the Coastal Commission, said the agency had received NRG's letter and was reviewing it. When asked, she said it was "unusual" to get a letter asking for a grant to be rescinded.

Oxnard's local coastal plan, drafted in the 1980s, proved an Achilles' heel during the city's fight over a Southern California Edison peaker plant built in 2012 next to the Mandalay generating station. Oxnard ultimately lost a legal battle over the 45-megawatt facility in part because its plan allowed seaside power plants. Updating the document is an lengthy, expensive process that ultimately requires state approval.

The City Council in 2014 passed a temporary ban on new beachside power plants but the moratorium will expire in June.

The proposed amendments would block new power plants inside Oxnard's coastal zone, among other things.

Before Thursday's meeting, Williamson said planning commissioners would not be asked to vote. Instead, they would hear the presentation and continue the session to Dec. 17. The City Council will consider the amendments in January. Any changes will ultimately require state approval.

Separately on Thursday, NRG submitted plans to demolish two of Mandalay's three generating units to the California Energy Commission, the entity that has final authority over siting power plants 50 megawatts or larger.

Previously, the company has tried to win Oxnard's support by saying it would demolish the Mandalay and Ormond facilities if the city entered into a benefits agreement.

"NRG has chosen to proactively do what we have heard from many citizens of Oxnard," said Dawn Gleiter, the project manager. NRG had hoped "to include this as part of a broad and comprehensive community agreement," she said, but without an agreement, "we felt it was appropriate to add the demolition as part of the ongoing permitting process."

The plans do not call for taking down the Ormond Beach station.

Sandy Smith of Sespe Consulting Inc. said the firm still represents Calpine, which also submitted a bid. The company owns the Mission Rock property and has done much work obtaining power line and property easements.

Even though Calpine wasn't chosen, he said, the company has continued to submit necessary filings to the state to keep its project in play.

"They believe they have a strong alternative," Smith said.

(c) 2015 PANAPRESS. All rights reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info)., source Middle East & North African Newspapers

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