January 28, 2023
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Alternative proposed to prevent peaker plant along Oxnard coast


One of the biggest stories in Ventura County these days is the debate over the so-called “peaker plant” proposed by independent power producer NRG to replace a couple of aging power stations along the Oxnard coastline.

And, when the Business Times editorialized in favor of building a peaker plant on July 17, we clearly created some buzz in the West County. Oxnard City Councilmember Carmen Ramirez, a vocal opponent, offers her views in an op-ed in the current edition of our newspaper.

But I was a bit surprised when my phone rang on July 22 and Santa Paula business owner Jim Tovias offered an alternative solution.

The two-term city councilmember said he personally would support a project that has been studied by Calpine, California’s largest independent power producer, to build the power plant in unincorporated Ventura County near the Santa Paula city limits.

Tovias said he sympathized with opponents of the NRG peaker because there is not really a need to locate the plant directly on the waterfront. “Because of new technology, why in the world continue to put plants on the coastline,” said Tovias, stressing he was speaking as an individual and not for the city or Calpine.

“I’m not a surfer or an environmentalist,” he said, but “with the amount of time that Oxnard has accommodated plans that needed ocean water” for cooling, maybe it was time to consider an alternative. One carrot that NRG is holding out is that the peaker would replace two outdated power stations that are not going to be allowed to operate after 2020 because they use a large amount of sea water for cooling.

Calpine’s representatives wouldn’t speak to the issue and the company’s approach so far has been to let the Oxnard debate play out without commenting.

But the company has identified a site on Mission Rock Road in an industrial area near the county jail. And it has talked preliminarily with Limoneira about the possibility of locating a power line to connect a prospective plant to a nearby substation.

Limoneira CEO Harold Edwards said any deal with Calpine for easements would likely involve the Limoneira Foundation and provide philanthropic benefits to the local community.

He said that whichever plan is chosen, now is the time to dismantle the large outdated facilities that loom over the shoreline.

“We just want to get the behemoth off the coast,” he said in a telephone interview.

It’s pretty clear that the California Public Utilities Commission won’t give up on the NRG facility easily, despite opposition from the city of Oxnard and a number of residents. And it may be that it will gavel the proposal through to the final authority, the California Energy Commission, without considering an alternative.

But Tovias isn’t counting the Mission Rock Road plant out entirely.

In addition to philanthropic benefits, a Calpine-operated plant would fit in with the zoning, provide much needed construction jobs and expand the area’s industrial base. But it would also need full city council approval for power lines and also a water supply to cool its gas-fired turbines.

Tovias said he opposed the county jail’s expansion a few years ago but thinks the power plant would be an appropriate use for a site that’s now mainly used for boat and recreational vehicle storage. He’s concerned that litigation over the NRG facility might prevent the peaker from being built in a timely fashion.

“It’s kind of like when you are selling a house. If the first offer falls through you go to the back-up offers,” he said. “There is a very viable alternative.”

• Reach Editor Dubroff at hdubroff@pacbiztimes.com.