In May 2010, city officials issued a request for proposal (RFP) for the excess, unused portion of the North City Water Reclamation Plant site, which they considered to be suitable for power generation.
“The northern end of that triangle has long been sought after by power companies because of its location next to a substation,” said Mayor Jerry Sanders’ spokesperson Russell Gibbon. “In 2010, the mayor’s office put out the RFP with a view toward beneficially reusing this underutilized site to generate revenue for the city revenue fund, tax revenue for the general fund, and jobs for unemployed residents.”
The city accepted applications for six months before selecting Capital Power as the preferred bidder for the long-term lease opportunity, whereupon the city and the power company began negotiations over the next year and a half.
In mid-June, the negotiations were complete, and contract agreements between the two parties — including option and lease agreements, a memorandum of understanding related to the continuation of ongoing discussions for the sale of reclaimed water to the proposed lessee, and approval of an ordinance for voter ratification of the proposed lease agreement — were made public for the first time.
Although the lease agreement was previously headed for the November ballot for voter ratification, the power company decided to pull the ballot initiative to allow voters more time to vet the project.
At an emergency University Community Planning Group meeting — called by the local planning group and District 1 City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner — residents weighed in on the project proposal. Although the reasons differed, the plan was met with unanimous disdain.
“It is the wrong site for so many different reasons. The location is just 2,000 feet away from a dense residential neighborhood, as well as such important community assets,” Lightner said, citing the local library, recreation center, high school, synagogue, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and national cemetery as being in close proximity to the proposed site. “It’s also bad for business — University City’s economic engine.”
She also said the site, which was recently found to have Pueblo land attributes, is environmentally sensitive and that building a power plant on the site could drive away potential businesses and renters in the area.
Capital Power representatives countered that they anticipate a need for power generation in San Diego by 2018, and that the power plant is needed to supply locals with reliable power generation using some of the cleanest technologies in the world.
“Local power generation makes sense for one important reason — reliability,” said Patricio Fuenzalida, director of business development at Capital Power. “We’ve identified a need for additional capacity in the 2018 range. If California’s economy recovers — and we have hope in California — there’s going to be an increment in demand for power generation.”
The size of the facility and generation capacity will be determined by the need for anticipated power in that time frame, said project manager Peter Sawicki.
“If we’re successful with our proposal and it’s approved, this power plant will be one of the cleanest and most efficient power plants in the world,” he said. “Our proposal includes a combined cycle design — one of the most efficient natural gas designs in the world. This facility allows for high efficiency and low emissions.”
Measures would also be taken to minimize noise level, emissions and aesthetics issues, and a health risk assessment will be performed to ensure no harm would come to any of the local sensitive receptors, said Sawicki.
“The facility would have to address all of the environmental regulatory agencies’ requirements. We recognize that the multi-species conservation plan habitat would require mitigation on the site, and we recognize that a multi-habitat planning area with boundary adjustment would be required to develop the site,” he said. “These aren’t easy things. This is an extremely long and expensive process for Capital Power that none of us are taking lightly.”
If placed on a future ballot, an affirmative vote on the city’s long-term lease agreement with Capital Power would allow the permitting process to begin, but it would not guarantee the power company could develop the site if permitting requirements are not met.
“This project will only be permitted if we can demonstrate it will not significantly degrade air quality. This facility will comply with all federal, state and local standards through the permitting process,” Sawicki said. “If this proposed project produces any potential risk, it will not be built.”
Despite assurances, community members came out in droves to air concerns over potential health risks, harm to environmentally sensitive lands, noise pollution, diminishing property values and the secrecy of the negotiations leading up to this point.
One would-be resident even said that he might seek out a way to pull out of his contract to purchase a new home due to the potential entrance of this new neighbor.
“I am currently in the process of buying a house in University City in the area adjacent to the Nobel Rec Center and the library,” said Jonathan White. “I talked to someone in Orange County who lives next to a power station, and he said it makes a roaring sound 24/7 … and I’m thinking about pulling out, because I’m due to close on Friday, three days from now. If you don’t think this won’t affect your property values, it might.”
In the only motion of the evening, the University Community Planning Group voted not to support putting the power plant initiative on the ballot — now or ever.