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California Public Utilities Commission Votes for More Dirty Gas Plants

Last minute changes may allow for more fossil-fueled energy
March 13, 2014
San Francisco, CA —

Today, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted on their plan to replace the power from the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating System. The CPUC passed their proposed decision unanimously, which will require Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to incorporate clean energy to replace the San Onofre system. Ultimately, the final decision incorporated last minute changes that will increase the odds that utilities will build gas plants instead of installing local, renewable energy sources.

While the CPUC’s final plan does require that a portion of the energy come from renewable sources, the utilities will ultimately get to choose where the bulk of the energy comes from, which could include natural gas. Leaving this choice in the hands utilities could pave the way for new, gas-fired power plants that are often built in low-income communities of color. In fact, San Diego Gas & Electric has already begun to lay the groundwork for a new gas plant in Carlsbad. The utility could use that plant in the energy mix required by the CPUC to replace the San Onofre plant.

“The closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station opened the way to pursue clean energy options in Southern California. While the utilities will be required to replace at least some of the power with preferred renewable resources, the Commission has also authorized building more energy capacity than is necessary,” said Will Rostov, Earthjustice Staff Attorney, who represented Sierra Club in the proceeding. “Additionally, there were some last minute changes to the decision that appears to facilitate the opening of new gas-powered power plants, a clear step in the wrong direction when we’re striving to build more clean energy resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

“We are outraged at this decision. The CPUC is allowing far too much new energy generation that we don’t need. What is especially concerning is that it leaves the door wide open for the vast majority of that energy to be produced with polluting fossil fuels, at the expense of our wallets and our health,” said Strela Cervas, Co-Coordinator with the California Environmental Justice Alliance. “These dirty gas plants are likely to end up in low-income areas and communities of color who have been clamouring for local clean energy. This decision completely circumvents the public’s input.”

“The CPUC’s final plan is a major step back from the Governors already weak proposal, which would have required at least half the power come from renewable resources. The Administration had a chance to support local, clean energy innovation and instead chose more pollution by allowing dirty gas to play a majority role in replacing San Onofre,” said Evan Gillespie, Campaign Director for My Generation. “Now, they are leaving the fate of Southern California’s energy future in the hands of the utilities, giving them the power to choose between dirty gas or clean energy. Moving forward, the utilities must use the flexibility in the plan to do the right thing and side with their customers who want clean energy that will protect their air and health.”

Existing gas plants are already contributing to the ozone pollution that leaves the Los Angeles basin with some of the dirtiest air in the country, with an "F" rating from the American Lung Association. Residents of affected communities have held a series of escalating protests and actions in recent months, demanding that the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station be replaced with clean energy and jobs, not more dirty gas-fired plants.

New gas plants would lock in more carbon pollution for decades to come and would undermine California’s climate targets. According to the California Air Resources Board, greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2012 for the first time since 2008 because of increased reliance on gas plants after San Onofre closed.

Contacts

Will Rostov, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2000

Marta Stoepker, Sierra Club, (213) 387-6528, ext. 237

Strela Cervas, California Environmental Justice Alliance, (213) 284-4923

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.