Sierra Club Slams Five 'Utility Money-Wasters'

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San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant. | Photo: Jason Hickey/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A proposed Kern County coal-fired power plant that would cost $3.15 billion tops a list of five projects of California investor-owned utilities singled out for criticism by the Sierra Club as expensive and dirty. SCS Energy's proposed "Hydrogen Energy California" coal-fired power plant in Tupman leads the list that also includes the ailing San Onofre nuclear power plant, gas-fired power plants operated by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), and an "archaic" billing system that charges PG&E customers with solar panels $30 a month.

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The proposed SCS "Hydrogen Energy California" (HECA) plant in Tupman wouldn't burn coal directly. The coal would first be gasified to produce hydrogen, and the carbon dioxide produced injected into oil wells at the Elk Hills in what's being called an attempt to "sequester" the CO2, but which will mainly allow oil to be extracted from those wells much more easily. The hydrogen would be used as fuel in a combined-cycle power plant to produce 288 megawatts of electrical power. Despite the clean-burning hydrogen fuel, the overall process would add significantly to the San Joaquin Valley's already formidable air pollution problem.

The plant would be visible from the Tule Elk State Reserve, changing that wildlife-watching park from a pastoral setting to one with a more industrial backdrop.

Tule Elk amble north of the location of a coal gasification power plant proposed by SCS Energy. | Chris Clarke photo

The proposal had once attracted the interest of Southern California Edison (SCE), which took part in a feasibility study of the project which itself cost about $30 million. SCE subsequently backed away from HECA in September 2011.

At number two on the Club's list are two gas-fired plants proposed by San Diego Gas & Electric: the Pio Pico plant near Otay and the Quail Brush plant near El Cajon. According to the San Diego Reader, Quail Brush may be a non-starter due to heavy opposition, but if both are built, they'll cost ratepayers $2 billion in what's very likely the most solar-friendly city in the nation.

Number three? A gas-fired plant PG&E wants to build in the rural Contra Costa County hamlet of Oakley, about which a Sierra Club press release quotes the Division of Ratepayer Advocates as saying "PG&E does not demonstrate need for the Oakley project, nor is Oakley the appropriate method to fill any perceived need." That plant has had a tortuous regulatory history, denied and then later approved by the California Public Utilities Commission. The plant would add one more fossil-fuel-burning industrial facility in a region already full of refineries and power plants stretching along the south shore of the San Pablo and Suisun bays, and would come with a $1.5 billion price tag.

Number four is the shuttered San Onofre nuke, operated by SCE, and the recent focus of intense controversy with Senator Barbara Boxer having alleged that SCE knowingly installed the faulty equipment that led to last year's shutdown -- an allegation SCE hotly denies. According to the Sierra Club release, that faulty equipment cost ratepayers $774 million.

And last on the list, an interesting bit of outmoded technology that doesn't generate power, but bills people for doing generating their own. PG&E, the Sierra Club claims, continues to bill solar panel owners by hand for their energy use, tacking on a $30 monthly fee that's ten times what SDG&E bills its solar customers using those newfangled computer machines of which ReWire has heard.

The list was released by the Sierra Club's "My Generation" campaign, which works to promote better policies for distributed generation of renewable energy in California.

About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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