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Encinitas sends letter to the CPUC on replacing SONGS

ENCINITAS — The City Council wants alternative energy to fill the void left by SONGS (San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station).

Council members agreed last week to send a letter to the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission) urging the voting body to replace SONGS with technology like solar.

The letter was considered time sensitive, because the CPUC is considering approval of the Pio Pico natural gas plant, a decision that’s likely to have a long-term impact on the county’s energy.

To make up for SONGS, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is backing the $1.6 billion Pio Pico plant in Otay Mesa. And SDG&E is also looking to buy power from a proposed gas-generating station next to the Encina Power Plant in Carlsbad.

SDG&E maintains new gas plants are necessary to tide the power grid over until more solar and wind farms come online. But environmental groups are pushing back against natural gas plants, arguing they’re too costly and would hurt the region’s air quality.

“The (CPUC) is poised to make a monumental decision that will affect our region and Encinitas for generations to come,” said Pete Hasapopoulos, an organizer with San Diego Sierra Club. “It has to do with pitting the thriving, local clean energy that we already have here in San Diego County versus more dirty energy.”

The county’s expanding solar power technology could more than make up for SONGS, he added, noting that Encinitas alone has four solar companies.

When reached over the phone after the meeting, Hasapopoulos said the San Diego Sierra Club plans to ask Del Mar and Solana Beach to send similar letters in the near future. Encinitas was chosen first because the city is “usually on the front end of protecting the environment,” he said.

The City Council voted unanimously to issue a letter in support of alternative energy, but didn’t comment on the agenda item.

SONGS, which provided energy for 1.4 million homes in Southern California, closed this summer. In its wake, it’s estimated the region is missing out on 600 megawatts of power.

After the meeting, Jennifer Ramp, a spokeswoman with SDG&E, said that the organization is filling the gap with a mixture of conservation, renewable energy and natural gas.

One of those alone won’t do the job, driving the need for Pio Pico, she said.

“We have one of the most dynamic profiles in the country,” Ramp added.

The Pio Pico plant would produce 300 megawatts of water. The CPUC ruled against the plant this past spring, but the project was resubmitted after SONGS shuttered. The EPA is also reviewing the plans for the plant.

New state and federal environmental regulations mandate that public utilities generate 33 percent of electricity via renewable sources by 2020. Ramp said SDG&E is at 22 percent and on pace to meet the goal.

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