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Sempra natural gas port may be used to fuel plants

October 09, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

ENSENADA — Sempra Energy of San Diego will build a new shipping port here to receive mass quantities of liquefied natural gas that could be used to fuel power plants in Mexicali by 2005.

According to Sempra spokesman Michael Clark, Sempra will be able to pump 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day to power plants in northern Baja California and Southern California — including an under-construction Sempra plant in Mexicali — via a proposed 40-mile pipeline that will connect with Sempra's 215-mile North Baja Pipeline.

The under-construction North Baja Pipeline runs parallel to the U.S. border from Tijuana to a point 30 miles east of Mexicali.

The future supply of gas from the Ensenada port will allow Sempra to send fuel to its under-construction Mexicali plant even if the Department of Energy and state agencies reject Sempra's plans to build a 79.9-mile pipeline through Imperial County's eastern deserts.

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Late last year, Sempra submitted for public review a proposal to build a pipeline that would connect its proposed North Baja Pipeline with an existing U.S. pipeline near Blythe.

The public comment period for the 79.9-mile connector pipeline project ends Oct. 25.

The comments will be received and the project will be examined by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the California State Lands Commission.

Steve Birdsall, Imperial County Air Pollution Control chief, calls the proposed connector pipeline a "double-edged sword" because natural gas is a relatively clean-burning fuel for energy production but the Mexicali plants using the fuel will send tons of emissions into the air of the Valley's regional airshed.

County officials have sent in written comments concerning the pipeline and are awaiting a response from federal and state agencies.

If both agencies sign off on the project, Sempra will have to apply to the Department of Energy for a presidential permit to import natural gas to Mexico.

State and federal officials expect the DOE to grant the permit if the project is approved by the two lead agencies.

But if, at any stage of the bureaucratic process, the project is rejected, Sempra would eventually be able to fuel its Mexicali plant with gas received from the Ensenada port and sell any excess gas to rival energy producers.

The Sempra spokesman was asked if the Ensenada project is a backup in case Sempra's Imperial County pipeline project is rejected.

"This gives us an alternative source and provides us more flexibility," he said.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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