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Calif. city closes gas power for costly solar

Paul Taylor

Coastal electric power plant closures continue in California. Southern California Edison will permanently shut down its coastal, carbon-free nuclear power plant at San Onofre in Orange County California. Last month Dynergy Energy Corp. announced closure of their fifty-year-old Central Coast, natural gas-fired Morro Bay Power Plant. Natural gas-fired power plants emit about one-half the greenhouse gases of conventional coal-fired electric power. And, “fracking” production technology has made natural gas the safe and efficient path to American energy independence.

The Morro Bay Power Plant is one of 19 natural gas-fired coastal California power plants to be phased out by state energy regulators to protect marine life. These power plants can suck up small sea creatures in their cooling water intakes used to cool thermal generation equipment. The City of Morro Bay has proposed to permit a commercial tourist redevelopment project on the decommissioned power plant site.

Lost Morro Bay electric power would be supplemented from the new California Valley Solar Ranch in eastern San Luis Obispo County. This $1.6 billion, 250-megawatt solar farm has 749,088 solar panels covering 1,500 acres. As with all renewable energies, this Solar Ranch will cost an exorbitant $6,400,000 per installed megawatt of energy while operating at an intermittent capacity factor of 22%. Conventional coal, gas or nuclear power plants operate at a capacity factor of about 85%.

In further comparison, an improved natural gas-fired Morro Bay-like power plant would require one-fourth the capital investment; cost about $1,000 per installed megawatt; would generate four times the electricity at an 88% capacity factor; and would impact only about 25 acres of land. The California Solar Farm project would not be feasible without large tax credits and other government subsidies.

It is estimated that power from the California Valley Solar Ranch will cost ratepayers from $0.15 to $0.18 per kilowatt-hour. The prevailing coastal California baseline electricity rate is $0.11 per kilowatt hour – about 30% below the projected new Solar Ranch electricity rates. (, Dec. 5, 2013)

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