Not so very long ago, California’s weak power grid made it the laughing stock of the nation.
But, thanks to poor public policy choices over the past decade, the rest of the country has caught up to us. Now, President Barack Obama has hired Steven Chu, a top University of California scientist, to lead the U.S. Energy Department in beefing up our aging distribution system.
On the Central Coast, we’ve learned the hard way that reliable electricity can’t happen without effective backup systems. The Gap Fire last July, which destroyed power lines in Santa Barbara County’s back country, underscored just how important it is to have multiple ways to move power up and down the coast.
Which brings us to a worthy backup plan that’s coming before the California Coastal Commission in early April. The McGrath Peaker Plant is a proposed new power plant for Oxnard that will complement and backstop wind and solar facilities expected to come online in the next few years.
It also will provide a way to immediately restore power to hospitals and other essential facilities in case of a disaster, and it will provide a way to bring the adjacent Mandalay Generating Station online in a so-called “black start.”
It is the last of five peakers proposed by Southern California Edison as part of its own package to strengthen grid reliability in the wake of the brownouts and power disruptions that made California the butt of late night TV jokes not so very long ago.
The city of Oxnard has objected to the plant and we’re sensitive to the fact that one of the region’s largest cities doesn’t want to be the repository for all of the industrial heavy-lifting in the region.
But Edison’s case for the McGrath station is a compelling one and Edison has done the right thing in offering to resort part of the habitat near the power station and providing other benefits to the community.
We’re not going to close the door on further negotiations between Oxnard and Edison that provide even more sweeteners to this deal. But we would encourage the Coastal Commission, which has thumbs up or thumbs down power over the deal, to give it the go-ahead at its April 9 hearing.