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Group Asks For Court Review Of Natural Gas Plant

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Otay Mesa's air quality isn't always as bad as shown here, but its residents still don't want a new gas-fired power plant there | Photo: Timm Williams/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A controversial proposed gas-fired power plant in San Diego County may become a topic of discussion by the California Supreme Court, as a local environmental group asks the court to reverse a decision allowing the plant to be built.

At issue is the $1.6 billion, 305-megawatt Pio Pico Energy Center proposed for the Otay Mesa neighborhood by San Diego Gas & Electric. The California Public Utilities Commission approved Pio Pico in February, a reversal of a their 2013 decision to deny approval to the plant. The San Diego County-based Protect Our Communities Foundation filed a petition with the state appellate court in July, challenging the Commission's February approval of the plant.

The Protect Our Communities Foundation alleges that the Public Utilities Commission violated state law when it approved the plant, abrogating its responsibility to protect the state's ratepayers from unnecessary utility costs. The CPUC refused to consider evidence that the plant isn't needed, say opponents. The appellate court refused to act on the green group's request, so the Protect Our Communities Foundation is turning to the state's highest court for relief.

"The CPUC's fast-tracking of Pio Pico with inadequate opportunity for public input or review sets a bad precedent. If critical evidence about whether the plant is even needed cannot be discussed and debated, it calls into question the transparency of the whole process," said Bill Powers, an energy expert who is a member of the Protect Our Communities Foundation Board of Directors.

Among the assumptions the commission used to justify its approval of Pio Pico was the possibility that the controversial Sunrise Powerlink transmission line would go down along with the roughly parallel Southwest Power Link. The $1.9 billion Sunrise Powerlink, which started piping power from Imperial County to San Diego in 2012, was sold to San Diego ratepayers and the CPUC as a guarantee of grid reliability on the South Coast.

The Otay Mesa area along the U.S.-Mexico border already suffers from polluted air, to which the power plant would add a not insignificant amount. The plant would primarily provide peak power during hot afternoons, the need for which could easily be met by increasing San Deigo's rooftop solar generating capacity, according to opponents of the gas plant.

"The Protect Our Communities Foundation has petitioned the Supreme Court in an effort to right this wrong. SDG&E ratepayers will pay $1.6 billion for this white elephant," Powers said.

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