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Power plant developer pulls the plug on its natural gas project in Oxnard

The developer of a proposed natural gas power plant in Ventura County asked state regulators Monday to suspend review of the plans, effectively ending the controversial project.

In response to regulators’ recommendation this month to reject the project, NRG Energy asked the California Energy Commission to end all hearings regarding its proposal while the company determines whether it will completely withdraw the application.

Energy commission members Janea Scott and Karen Douglas issued a rare statement Oct. 5 recommending that the full regulatory body reject the Puente power project in Oxnard, after an outcry from residents, local officials and state lawmakers.

The commissioners, who make up a two-member review committee, received hundreds of messages protesting the project as another potential pollution threat to a community already overwhelmed by electricity-generating plants.

"We hereby notify the parties and interested members of the public that we intend to issue a [decision] that recommends denial of the project on the grounds that it creates inconsistencies with LORS [laws, ordinances, regulations or standards] and significant environmental impacts that cannot be mitigated," Scott and Douglas said.

The commissioners’ recommendation followed Los Angeles Times investigations that showed the state has overbuilt the electricity system, primarily with natural gas plants, and has so much clean energy that it has to shut down some plants while paying other states to take the power California can't use. The overbuilding has added billions of dollars to ratepayers' bills in recent years.

The 262-megawatt Puente Energy power plant would be owned and operated by NRG, a Houston electricity company. NRG contracted with Southern California Edison to supply power to the utility.

After the commission members’ issued their statement, Edison said the Puente project is needed to help meet demand when older power plants close by 2021: "While there are potential solutions to the needs addressed by the Puente project, it is speculative to assume that preferred resources can be developed on the scale and at the cost needed to competitively replace the Puente project by 2021."

In August, the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state's electric grid, released a report detailing how clean energy sources could serve as alternatives to building the Puente plant but at a higher cost.

ivan.penn@latimes.com

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