The Puente Power Project proposal at the Mandalay Generating Station in Oxnard is one of the most controversial issues as of late in Ventura County. It has been met with steady resistance dating back to its original filing date in 2015, with complaints ranging from blight on the beach, the city carrying the brunt of regional energy demands by having three plants within city limits to air quality concerns and flood risks with rising sea levels. And so the lawmakers and environmental and social justice groups have demanded that the California Energy Commission, the California Public Utilities Commission and NRG Energy Inc. conduct more studies to alleviate these concerns but also to ultimately take the construction of the new plant off the table for good. For ardent opponents, there is no compromise on this issue, even though NRG has agreed to demolish two energy generating stations as well as complete and revisit and redo studies upon request. NRG has also argued that the current infrastructure at Mandalay is one of the main reasons to build a new plant there rather than elsewhere.
While surely certain environmental groups just want this to go away, it appears as though NRG will keep moving forward to the bitter end and may even appeal any denial of the project, should it go that way, at the final stage of this process. What is concerning, however, is one approach that is based on the idea that the best way to communicate effectively about issues over the proposal is to thwart communication altogether. This occurred on Jan. 10 at a public workshop in Oxnard held by the California Energy Commission. To make matters worse, the message of the environmental activists was mainly focused on air quality issues, though the burning of natural gas, which is what NRG uses, isn’t necessarily such a tremendous burden as compared to burning coal or even the potential threat of using nuclear energy and potential radiation exposure, as seen with Fukushima. Further, the new plant will be more efficient in the burning of these fuels compared to the current plant. And while Oxnard has immigrant workers and a high number of residents who live at or below the poverty level, the city’s population is also twice as big as the county’s second largest city, Ventura, and has more affordable housing than other cities. The argument of ongoing persecution of the city’s impoverished, where various neighborhoods have high rates of asthma, as the main reason to fight off the construction of this plant is not necessarily a logical one, but rather an emotional one. Proof that air pollution from the current power plants has directly resulted in higher rates of asthma in Oxnard has been impossible to find and so has proof that shutting down the power plant will result in lower rates of asthma. Oftentimes, emotional arguments are just as valid, but they don’t necessarily win the debate when it comes to commissioners and planners. But there are some concerns that should remain in the forefront.
On Feb. 5, the L.A. Times published a story on California’s energy demands, “Californians are paying billions for power they don’t need.”
In the article, the reporters write: “California has a big — and growing — glut of power, an investigation by the Los Angeles Times has found. The state’s power plants are on track to be able to produce at least 21 percent more electricity than it needs by 2020, based on official estimates. And that doesn’t even count the soaring production of electricity by rooftop solar panels that has added to the surplus.”
If the currently operating power plant at the Mandalay Generating Station is scheduled to be shut down by 2020, it would seem especially prudent that NRG address the claims in the article that California is NOT in fact … well, overpowered. And somehow, not only do Californians pay a higher premium for energy, but we are also being told that more plants must be built.
Other rational arguments against building include continued blight on the beach, that power plants no longer need ocean water to cool down, impacts to rare species of lizards and the dune beetle, etc. But the most critical point to make in this whole discussion over the proposal is that we must foster communication and not just shut it down. We encourage healthy debate and further studies that prove definitively that this proposed plant is a must, it must happen in Oxnard and all consequences can be mitigated. In the end, access to the beach and the restoration of this limited natural resource is really what this is all about. And that’s OK.
The California Energy Commission will be holding a workshop about flooding risks at the NRG Power Project site on March 28, 11 a.m., at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center.