Feinstein, Hunter might gang up on power plants

May 07, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein told Imperial County supervisors and others in the county she might team with Congressman Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, to introduce legislation requiring U.S. companies building power plants in Mexico to meet clean-air requirements before exporting electricity to California, according to her spokesman, Howard Gantman.

While bipartisan support of potential legislation could help the passage, one of the biggest potential pollution producers, a four-turbine plant called "La Rosita" under construction in Mexicali, could find a way around the such legislation by claiming that pollution produced by two of its turbines should not be judged by California's standards because the electricity produced by those turbines will be sold to Mexican consumers.

Construction of La Rosita is financed by InterGen of Boston.

Imperial County Air Pollution Control District officials are worried that two under-construction natural gas power plants in Mexicali, InterGen's La Rosita and a plant built by San Diego's Sempra Energy, will pump tons of noxious chemicals into the Imperial Valley's airshed.


La Rosita will send electricity to the U.S. and Mexico. Sempra's plant will send all of its electricity to the U.S.

San Diego power plant experts and Imperial County officials contend pollution from just the two turbines at La Rosita that are used to produce power for Mexico will be thick enough to offset emission reductions along the border when the North Baja Pipeline is finished and dirtier, diesel-burning plants in Tijuana are converted to natural gas-burners.

North Baja will connect a major natural gas pipeline running through Blythe with a Mexicali-Tijuana pipeline via an 80-mile link snaking beneath east Imperial County land.

Regarding the two turbines at La Rosita that will produce energy for the U.S., Gantman said, "InterGen must meet certain clean-air requirements as required within the state of California."

He said staffers in Feinstein's office hope InterGen decides to install California-complaint emission controls voluntarily. If InterGen doesn't, legislation could be introduced.

InterGen has said it will install some controls that will cut emissions by around 40 percent. Imperial County officials want to see that figure dropped by 60 percent more.

As for the two turbines tabbed for Mexican power production, InterGen officials have said the company can't install California-compliant emission controls on those because the $7 million cost would violate the international bid the company put in to build the plant.

That's another issue, according to Gantman. He said potential legislation would only apply to sources exporting energy into the U.S.

"Power sold into the state of California would have to come from sources that aren't contributing pollution to California," he said.

According to the North American Free Trade Agreement, InterGen and Sempra Energy of San Diego are well within their rights to build power plants in Mexico that meet only Mexican air-quality standards.

Gantman said legislation could be crafted so it works within NAFTA's parameters.

While Sempra has said it doesn't have to do so, company officials have said it is building its plant in Mexicali to the same specifications as a California-built plant. Electricity produced at Sempra's plant will be exported to the U.S.

Congressman Bob Filner, D- Chula Vista, has proposed creating a binational air-quality agreement that would create a common set of standards for sources of pollution along the border.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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