Editor’s note: This story by Mike Lee was published Dec. 17 by The San Diego Union-Tribune. IBEW Local 1245 represents employees at the South Bay Power Plant.
Elected officials and environmental activists who are trying to force closure of the South Bay Power Plant gained momentum yesterday (Dec. 16) when regional water quality regulators said they would consider rescinding the facility’s pollution permit.
They could take action at a special hearing in March.
Without the permit, the 49-year-old plant in Chula Vista would have to stop operating. Community groups are pushing for closure by summer, saying that’s the time of year when the facility does the most harm to fish larvae.
But the plant’s operator wants to keep it through 2010.
California’s Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power supply, said two of the facility’s turbines may be needed even longer to help ensure electricity reliability for the San Diego region.
At its monthly meeting yesterday, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board voted 6-0 to approve minor changes to the power plant’s current permit. That arrangement allows two main turbines to keep running until the end of 2010 as long as the state’s system operator needs them. The other two main units will go offline by the end of this month because they’re no longer considered necessary.
In addition, the water board’s members unanimously agreed to scrutinize the plant’s ecological effects, a measure requested by several community groups and elected leaders. Many of them want to remove the massive structure and redevelop the bayfront area.
“What we still have never had … is an evidentiary hearing on the impacts (of the plant) to the water,” said David King, a member of the water board’s governing panel. “If it’s OK to let it run its course and expire at the end of 2010, then we would go that route. If it needs to happen sooner, then let’s … make that decision.”
The power plant uses bay water as a coolant, a method that’s widely viewed as environmentally damaging because it kills fish larvae and discharges heated effluent into the bay.
Community activists are confident they can persuade regulators to pull the plug on the facility.
“The board is sympathetic,” said Laura Hunter of the nonprofit Environmental Health Coalition in National City. “Every time we have gotten in front of them, they have gone our direction.”
A spokesman for Houston-based Dynegy Inc., which has run the facility since 2007, stressed the plant’s role in maintaining a steady regional power supply.
“We understand the desire of the board to have the next-level hearing and we will participate fully,” David Byford said.