All the residents, community leaders, environmentalists and city officials fighting plans for a new power plant in Oxnard have every reason to celebrate news that a key state committee will recommend rejection of the project. They have been battling the Puente Power Project for three years and deserve much praise for their passion, perseverance and seeming defiance of the odds in trying to scuttle this ill-advised project along our treasured coast.
In fact, we believe all Californians concerned about the state's environment and energy future have cause for celebration. If environmentalists are correct in their statement that last week's decision "marks a turning point in California's clean energy revolution," then we will all owe Oxnard a debt of gratitude for quickening our inevitable journey toward an alternative-energy future.
NRG Energy Inc. wants to build a gas-fired power plant, including a 188-foot exhaust stack, at its existing facility off Harbor Boulevard near Mandalay State Beach, to replace two aging plants that must be shut down by 2020. NRG says the new plant would ensure a reliable, cleaner power supply for the region.
The California Energy Commission has the final say. Its staff agreed the effects would be minimal and recommended approval. But a review committee composed of two commissioners issued a statement Thursday saying they will recommend the full commission deny the project "on the grounds that it creates inconsistencies with (local laws and ordinances) and significant environmental impacts that cannot be mitigated."
The early statement — issued before the release of a report elaborating on those inconsistencies and impacts — was unusual, and it would be even more unusual for the full commission to ignore its own committee and approve Puente. The California Coastal Commission and numerous state legislators also oppose the project.
We have long argued against building coastal power plants, in Oxnard or anywhere else in the state, especially when there are better, inland sites available. The California Coastal Act of 1976 aims to protect our coastal resources, and we don't think industrial operations are conducive to that.
An even broader issue raised by the Puente debate, however, is whether new fossil fuel plants should be built anywhere in the state. The California Independent Systems Operator, which maintains the state's power grid, concluded in an August study that a combination of alternative energy sources, such as solar and battery storage, could provide enough power for Ventura County without Puente.
Columnist Tom Elias, who often writes about California's utility industry, recently noted that on several days in May, more than 60 percent of the state's electricity came from alternative energy. The state should easily surpass its legislative goals of 33 percent of demand being met through renewable energy by 2020 and 50 percent by 2030, and some legislators are pushing for a goal of 100 percent by 2045.
Given our state's technology and innovation, we have no reason to doubt such a goal is achievable. And when that day arrives, we may need to thank Oxnard again.