By Miriam Raftery
June 30, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – A new website, www.savemissiontrails.org, has been launched to oppose the Quail Brush Generation Power Plant. The group asks the public to send e-mails to decision makers and attend two key upcoming meetings, both on July 19.
At 9 a.m., the San Diego City Planning Commission will be reconsidering whether to initiate a community plan amendment to allow rezoning the open space for industrial development. Then at 1 p.m., the Mission Trails Task Force will consider the issue.
For a sample letter from Save Mission Trails, along with e-mail addresses for Planning Commissioners, City Council Members the Mayor, and other officials with potential to impact the outcome, click here.
At a five-hour hearing Friday June 28, nearly 200 people packed the Planning Commission chambers. Power plant applicant Cogentrix, LLC, a subsidiary of the banking giant Goldman Sachs, initiated a process with the California Energy Commission in August 2011 to license a 100 MW plant that would require eleven 100 foot tall smokestacks on lands that have been designated open space in the East Elliot Community Plan, located just north of Mission Trails Regional Park and adjacent to the park’s expansion area.
SDG&E and Cogentrix have contended that the project is necessary to meet our region’s growing energy demand during peak demand periods, as well as provide backup for desert wind and solar during non-windy conditions or cloudy weather.
Members of Save Mission Trials, Sierra Club, Environmental Health Coalition, Audubon Society and others testified in opposition to the proposed power plant. Electrical engineer and expert witness Bill Powers, testified that the power plant is not necessary to meet San Diego’s energy needs. Santee Councilmember John Minto and Santee city staff urged Commissioners to reject the initiation and send a clear message to the California Energy Commission that areas designated for permanent protection as open space will be safeguarded.
Other speakers said the plant’s aim of providing peak power on hot days could be better met by expansion of local solar generation on home and business rooftops in the same amount of time as it would take for this power plant to be operational.
A majority of Commissioners present agreed with power plant opponents. New Commissioner, Susan Peerson expressed concerns that this kind of non-conforming use would be a foothold for other incompatible industrial uses in an area set aside for permanent open space preservation. Planning Commissioner Stephen Haase, in making the motion to deny the initiation, voiced concerns about the state preempting the City’s local land use review authority. He concluded that with the state in control of the schedule for power plant licensing and environmental review, San Diego City Council needs to look at this issue earlier in the process.
That review could happen if the Planning Commissioners deny initiation of the plan amendment and the applicant appeals the denial to the City Council.
“A strong message to city staff is suggested, as there is supposed to be a mechanism for preventing applications that do not make sense from going through to the Planning Commission based on three criteria,” Save Mission Trails stated in a press release sent to media. “This initiation request was clearly in violation of the first two criteria: consistency with the General plan and public benefit.” Since the issue of energy need is the responsibility of the CPUC, the city Staff has no authority to assert energy needs, nor to recommend approval of the initiation overall, since their evidence was in blatant contradiction to the criteria.
“San Diego Planning Commissioners are to be applauded for their diligence,” Save Mission Trails release concluded. “The issue is simple: The criteria were NOT met to approve an initiation to amend.”
Three of the five Commissioners present , including Chairman Eric Naslund, supported the motion to not initiate the amendment. However two of the seven-member panel were absent. Since the rules of the Commission require four votes to pass, the matter was trailed to a July 19 meeting.