The Ormond Beach Generating Station will go offline come October, but its fate as a former mainstay on the Oxnard coast remains a mystery as no plans have been made for its removal, and who bears responsibility for such a task remains unclear.
NRG Energy subsidiary GenOn owns the Ormond Beach and Mandalay generating stations as well as the land they sit on. GenOn filed for bankruptcy in June of 2017 and is expected to become its own standalone company by the end of 2018, according to David Knox, spokesman for NRG.
With its closure, the Ormond Beach station joins three existing NRG power plants at Mandalay Beach in closing. NRG will also shutter two more gas-fired power plants this year, Etiwanda station in Rancho Cucamonga and Ellwood station in Goleta.
NRG put on hold plans to build yet another power plant on the Oxnard coast in late 2017, the so-called Puente Power Project, after the California Energy Commission announced that it would recommend against that construction. In neighboring Santa Paula, it was announced last week by the Calpine Corporation that there is a request to suspend plans to build a generating station dubbed Mission Rock Energy Center.
One question remains: What becomes of the shuttered power plants?
The Ormond Beach Generating Station began operating in the early 1970s, and the Mandalay plant opened in 1956. Not too far away sits Halaco, a designated superfund site due to high levels of toxic materials that still remain on the property. The site is a former metal smelting location operated by the Halaco Engineering Company until 2004. Residents and local officials have protested any new construction on the Oxnard coast and came out strongly against the planned Puente Power Plant project.
Oxnard Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez was in Washington, D.C., last week attending the National League of Cities annual meeting where Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson was a featured speaker. Ramirez also took the time to urge the Environmental Protection Agency not to forget about the Halaco site, adding that she believes EPA Director Scott Pruitt will prioritize superfund site cleanup. As far as the Ormond Beach and Mandalay stations go, she says that the Council is not yet ready to divulge its strategies.
“The company would tell you that it’s not their responsibility and that they can just walk away and leave their trash on our beach, that’s their take on it, that’s their view,” said Ramirez. “If you or I left our trash, even on our private property, in the front yard, the city would come calling and say, you better clean it up.”
Ramirez adds, however, that there is no formal requirement for NRG to remove the plant. Knox echoes that assessment.
“The only state requirement is that the sites be safely and environmentally secured and monitored, and we will do this once the plants are retired,” said Knox, adding that GenOn will be “the company that safely and environmentally secures and monitors the sites once the plants are retired.”
The sState of California is operating in a glut of power resulting from nearly 500 new power plants constructed since the year 2000. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, by 2015, most gas-powered plants in the state generated only one-third of their capacity as use declined due to investment in renewable energies such as solar and wind.
In Santa Paula, Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization, is cautiously optimistic about the suspension of the Mission Rock Energy Center proposal, which it says is not only unnecessary in the same vein as the Puente Power Project, but would damage culturally sensitive land important to the native Chumash people should it be approved.
Angela Johnson Meszaros, staff attorney for Earthjustice, says that the California Energy Commission will need to decide whether or not to terminate the plans altogether or set a specific period of time for the suspension as it did with the Puente Power Project, which was given a six month window.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but I want us to remain clear that Calpine is sort of in the driver’s seat here,” said Meszaros. “It seems like it’s part of a trend where these power plant developers are recognizing that California has moved on from investments in fossil fuels and these fossil fuel power plants are just an anchor to the past.”
As for Ormond Beach and Mandalay, Meszaros’ words are similar to Ramirez’s.
“NRG made a ton of money off of rate payers in SoCal operating those plants, and for them to take the position that now they’ve made their money and they’re going to walk away, essentially leaving their beach trash behind, is deeply problematic,” said Meszaros. “They ought to do better than just walking away to leave the thing to be a public nuisance.”
Ramirez says that Oxnard has joined Los Angeles’ Community Choice Energy Program, a green initiative offering an alternative energy source from Southern California Edison. Edison supported the Puente Power Project. Beginning in 2019, Oxnard, along with Ojai, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Ventura County, Ventura, Moorpark and Camarillo, will draw energy from the program for its residents, unless residents opt out and stay with Edison.
Ramirez says that she is proud of the city’s opposition to the proposed power plants and is happy that Ormond Beach and Mandalay are going offline.
“For all of these decades, the city of Oxnard, unlike other coastal cities which have unpolluted beaches, a vista and public access, have had to put up with smokestacks that look like some industry setting up on our beach,” said Ramirez. “Finally our city, community said, no more. I’m very happy about it, but I know that there’s much more to go.”