A rendering of the proposed Calpine Mission Rock Energy Center, south of Highway 126 between the Todd Road overpass and Briggs Road, was shown at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Representative of Calpine ‘peaker plant,’ public address City Council

April 08, 2016
Santa Paula News

A representative of Calpine gave the City Council details on a proposed “peaker plant” to be built on Mission Rock Road, a meeting that featured more than a dozen speakers objecting to the plan.

Calpine filed an application with the California Energy Commission in December to build the Mission Rock Energy Center (MREC), a 255-megawatt, natural gas-fired power plant south of Highway 126 between Todd and Briggs roads. The plant is proposed for the same industrial area that is home to Santa Clara Waste Water – Green Compass, the scene of a November 2014 explosion. The industrial area is about two miles west of Santa Paula city limits.

Fourteen speakers from throughout west Ventura County spoke against the project after the presentation by Mitch Weinberg, Calpine’s director of strategic origination and development.

The MREC is being proposed as an alternative to a proposed NRG energy plant now seeking approval for the Oxnard coast, a project that has met with strong public and Oxnard City Council opposition.

“At the very beginning of the process it’s critical you keep this involvement,” Weinberg told the crowd before he presented a PowerPoint on the proposal.

Calpine is an independent power producer: “We don’t build projects to flip them, we build to stay,” and the facility would employ 16 people who “would become part of the community.”

One of the “nation’s cleanest generators of natural gas and geothermal power,” Weinberg said Calpine is the largest such producer of geothermal power in the nation and provides California with about 15 percent of its power.

The Mission Rock plant would have five separate turbines that Weinberg said offers more flexibility and efficiency in firing up than a single large turbine. 

Twenty batteries that could store a total of 100 megawatt hours of power would be a part of the operation, power generated onsite or drawn from the grid. 

Battery power storage is a rising new concept in the industry as the technology improves and Weinberg told the council that such a capacity would be enlarged in the coming years to meet the expectations of state regulators and power companies. 

Weinberg said the plant would use, “The same natural gas you burn in your homes.”

Later he noted, “In broad strokes what we do” is “fill in the gaps” from intermittent resources such as wind and solar that cannot be counted on 24/7.

A formal Environment Impact Report will be started in May, a process that would take up to 18 months. 

“MREC does not have a contract to build and operate,” and if there is no need for the facility it will not be built Weinberg noted. 

The almost 10-acre parcel was selected because of existing zoning and use as well as its proximity to needed resources and interconnections.

As for the physicality of the facility, Weinberg showed renderings of what the plant would look like as well as transmission and pipelines.

“When we discussed this project with the prior council our thought was stacks would be 80-feet high,” but the height had been reduced.

Weinberg noted the approval process starts with the California Energy Commission and “Something that occurred that was unusual and unfortunate,” was the city, which has no jurisdiction over the project, was not notified of the MREC application.

Public input is always a part of the process and at Calpine’s request the comment period for public agencies was extended from April 1 to May 1.

“…if the project on the coast goes forward,” with full generation, “we are not needed,” but if the coastal plant’s generation is reduced, creating the need for more power Weinberg said the MREC would move forward.

Councilwoman Ginger Gherardi asked about benefits specifically to Santa Paula.

Weinberg said that there will be $3,000,000 in annual property taxes for the approximately $250 million facility; the Santa Paula Unified and Briggs School districts will receive “north of $450,000” annually for the life of the project. Blanchard Community Library and Santa Paula Fire would also benefit. In addition to the full time jobs there would be about 300 construction jobs. 

“How about the foundation?” asked Councilman Jim Tovias.

“There is another benefit,” that Weinberg said was first discussed in 2013 when Limoneira was approached about the project.  

“They were skeptical, worried about public health to the city,” but after discussions it was agreed that Calpine’s easement fee to Limoneira would go to the company’s foundation.

Limoneira will also be the source of recycled water for the project, a maximum of 170-acre-feet a year. The company also holds carbon credits that could be a revenue producer.

The more than a dozen speakers took to the podium all citing reasons to reject the plant, ranging from the site’s proximity to the Santa Clara River and air pollution to the state’s shift towards renewal energy and Santa Paula’s status as a low-income, largely Hispanic community.

Gail Pidduck urged the council to take a formal position against the project noting social justice issue. 

She asked that the community have a full accounting of the history of the project and past council involvement, and cautioned, “The money promised is not always there…”

Every other alternate site said Nate Pidduck, is fighting a facility “Tooth and nail,” and he noted SOAR guidelines, flood plains and, “The socially disadvantaged community predominantly Spanish-speaking…often too scared to voice their opinion.”

He also questioned air pollution impacts to those at Todd Road Jail.

This is the “wrong time in our history to build fossil fueled plants,” said Karl Krause, the former director of engineering for the county Air Pollution Control District.

He questioned whether a “peaker plant” was the issue for MREC because it seems the projected hours of operation more resemble a mid-level power generating plant.

Mary Ann Krause said she has a “grave concern” as the proposed plant is in the 100-year flood plain, and the damage done in 2005 to the Santa Paula Airport. A peaker plant, she noted, cannot be easily moved.

In addition, a past report documented how Santa Paula has the highest level of lung disease and Krause questioned the particulates produced by the plant.

Turning rivers into tourist destinations have proven economically successful for cities ranging from New Orleans to Thousand Oaks said Nina Danza, who noted the Nature Conservancy plans a Welcome Center on land near Mission Rock Road. 

“Santa Paula is poised,” to become the “heart of the Santa Clara River” for visitors.

Santa Paula High School student and CAUSE member Yvonna Montalvo said Santa Clara Waste Water – Green Compass, already contaminates the area; several other SPHS students also commented noting their concerns.

Jan Dietrich from Ventura County Climate Hub, a renewable energy working group, noted the 2016 IEPR Scoping model followed the “least regrets siting option” and does not consider future impacts as well as actual need for the project. 

Ron Weikert, also a Ventura County Climate Hub member, said, “It’s a brilliant design for a plant but about twenty years out of date solar is cheaper than energy produced by natural gas…”

He referred to it as a “Brown field for a brown community…I’m calling out Calpine for racial injustice!”

The Santa Clara is the last natural river in Southern California said Audrey Vincent and Jesus Torres, a candidate for County Supervisor 3rd District asked how the residents of the city could benefit.

Weinberg addressed some of the comments noting “This is the kind of forum I propose and I promise Calpine will arrange,” round table discussions. 

The project will have “no interaction with the river whatsoever” and will not block access; the property would be built up and elevated to exceed FEMA 100-year flood plain requirements and solar and wind energy cannot be solely relied upon.

City Councilwoman Gherardi prepared a list of questions that will be asked of the CEC, but first Councilman John Procter recused himself noting he owns Limoneira stock and there could be a perception of conflict of interest. 

Weinberg noted that “at the end of the day” the CPUC has the sole authority to approve such a plant.

But, in his experience, the Energy Commission tends to listen to the concerns of local residents and city councils.

“I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen them override a local community,” he said. “It’s not a duty they take lightly.”

“It’s very critical,” said Hernandez, “that this room stays full…I want us to stay engaged” and “stand together” through the process. 

“It is also very critical that you make yourselves heard before the California Energy Commission, when the time comes.”

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