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Sempra to address Calexico council

February 18, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — It's Sempra's turn Tuesday.

The San Diego energy company will address the Calexico City Council during its regular meeting to talk about controversy surrounding under-construction power plants in Mexicali and a proposed natural gas pipeline.

Sempra Energy and Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. of Bethesda, Md., want to bury an 80-mile stretch of pipeline under the desert of east Imperial County to connect a huge Texas-Los Angeles natural gas pipeline running through Blythe with an under-construction Tijuana-Mexicali pipeline called the Gasoducto Bajanorte.

Imperial County Air Pollution Control Officer Stephen Birdsall told the council at its last meeting that three new power plants being built in Mexicali, including a 600-megawatt Sempra plant, could burn natural gas supplied by that pipeline.

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The emissions spewed into the airshed of the Imperial/Mexicali valleys by those power plants and an old plant retrofitted to burn natural gas could negatively affect the health of residents here, Birdsall said.

Following that presentation, the council passed resolutions opposing any construction of the 80-mile stretch of pipeline that would run through Imperial County land until all the power plants in Mexicali are equipped with California-compliant emissions controls. City councils in Brawley, El Centro and Holtville passed similar resolutions.

Sempra and Mexican partners are building a 600-megawatt power plant in Mexicali that company officials say will be equipped with California-compliant emission controls.

However; a Boston-based power company called InterGen is building a 1,000-megawatt power plant called "La Rosita" that won't be California-compliant. Two of the four turbines at La Rosita will export electricity to Mexico. Those turbines will be equipped with Mexico-compliant emissions controls.

La Rosita is being built near Mexicali's wastewater treatment plant near Mount Signal.

Its two Mexico-compliant turbines will emit more noxious emissions than the combined emissions of the other three plants, according to Imperial County officials and a San Diego emissions expert.

If federal and state energy commissions allow Sempra to build the Imperial County stretch of the North Baja Pipeline, Sempra and its partners are contracted to sell natural gas to the InterGen plant.

Sempra officials have said the company's proposed natural gas pipeline will allow Mexican power companies to build more natural gas power plants to meet rising electricity demand in northern Baja California and Southern California.

By enabling the construction of more natural gas plants, Sempra officials contend the pipeline would "cause a significant reduction in emissions in the trans-border region, which will translate into improved air quality."

The "trans-border region" as defined by Sempra includes the Mexicali/Imperial valleys and the San Diego/Tijuana basin.

Imperial County officials counter Sempra's arguments by pointing out that emissions from the two turbines of the La Rosita plant will negate most of the proposed reduction in air pollution.

In the long view, Imperial County officials are worried about the possibility of unchecked power plant construction south of the border that could skew the projected reduction of emissions factored by Sempra.

Another complicating factor is the price of natural gas.

Since the price rises and falls, it could one day become too expensive for proposed or existing power plants in northern Baja California to burn natural gas. In that scenario, a company could retrofit its power plant to burn "dirtier fuel" such as diesel or oil or remove emissions controls to increase power production.

Sempra officials have said that scenario is unlikely because of cost of retrofitting a power plant after it is built to burn natural gas.

In other business at Tuesday's meeting, the council could adjust Fire Chief Carlos Escalante's salary, vote to replace water lines in the downtown area, approve one of four designs as the new Calexico logo, take action on the proposed improvements to Robinson and Fiesta roads, discuss revitalization of the downtown area again and set up a new basis for charging impact fees.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. in the council chambers.

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

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