Oxnard, California: The City That Stopped A Gas Plant
When NRG Energy, one of the largest electric power producers in the country, won a contract to build a new gas plant on the beach in Oxnard, California, in 2014, nearly everyone assumed it was a done deal.
The region’s electric utility, Southern California Edison, needed a new source of power to keep the lights on in moments of extreme need. But the working class, majority-Latino community was not enthused about the prospect of another industrial facility in its backyard. Power plants already bookend Oxnard’s beach, about seven miles apart, the smokestacks looming over the coastal vista. A toxic Superfund site lingers nearby, the aftermath of a smelting plant that shut down years ago.
Local activists and city officials rejected the expectation that they should host another major polluter. They passed an ordinance to block new plants on the coast, and demanded that the state look for cleaner alternatives.
Such objections had failed to stop many a gas plant before, but this time, things veered off the usual playbook.
California leaders were already working to eliminate greenhouse gases from the power sector and curb the state’s considerable contribution to climate change. A new ecosystem of clean energy companies emerged to provide equipment and software to generate and store electricity.
When state officials inquired in 2017 whether clean technologies could fill the role of NRG’s gas plant, the answer was a definite yes. With that knowledge, regulators said they would reject the gas plant due to its environmental impact, and asked Southern California Edison to find clean energy projects to replace it.
The utility came back two months ago with a different vision for the city: a suite of batteries that can store the abundant solar power generated during the day and deliver it when needed.