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Calif. grid operator will look at potential alternatives to proposed gas plant

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Calif. grid operator will look at potential alternatives to proposed gas plant

The next major development in the California Energy Commission's review of NRG Energy Inc.'s 262-MW gas-fired Puente Power Project is days away, with the state's grid operator expected to file a review of potential alternatives to the plant. The project would be built in Oxnard, Calif., to help replace nearby gas-fired units slated to retire by 2021. NRG has proposed to build the Puente plant on a previously disturbed site within the boundaries of NRG's gas-fired Mandalay plant, to replace Mandalay units 1 and 2.

The units are among the nearly 2,000 MW of gas-fired generation serving the Moorpark reliability area in Ventura County, Calif., that are expected to retire under the state's once-through cooling water regulations. NRG's Ormond Beach units 1 and 2 are also expected to retire by 2021. The California Public Utilities Commission has already approved a 20-year contract between NRG and Southern California Edison Co. an Edison International subsidiary, for the output of the proposed plant. The utility regulators did so despite protests from the Oxnard community about the environmental impact of the project.

Since getting NRG's application in 2015, the energy commission has received comments both for and against the project. Those in favor point to reliability benefits, while those opposed prefer the addition of renewables to another gas-fired plant. The city of Oxnard in April filed testimony from a consultant named James Caldwell, arguing that a combination of renewable resources, synchronous condensers, demand response and other technology is preferable to the project.

Caldwell discussed the proposal during a public comment period at a California ISO board of governors meeting in May, asking that the grid operator study the issue as part of its 2017 transmission planning process. A discussion about those remarks led CAISO to offer to look at potential resource portfolio alternatives to the project. The energy commission in June said it would take the grid operator up on its offer and initially asked for the study to be done by July 19. The commission later pushed that date back to Aug. 16.

According to a presentation from CAISO, the objective of the study is "to identify and evaluate potential resource portfolio alternatives to the Puente project to meet the local resource adequacy need in the Moorpark area." The study will not assess the cost, timing or feasibility of procurement of the alternative resources.

Last month, the commission held evidentiary hearings on topics like sea level rise, coastal flooding and biological resources. NRG spokesman David Knox said that alternative technologies have already been thoroughly reviewed and that Puente is the right technology to meet the reliability need.

An evidentiary hearing on the CAISO study is scheduled for Sept. 14. (Docket No. 15-AFC-01)