The post has been updated to include a statement from NRG Energy.
- NRG Energy asked the California Energy Commission to end hearings over its proposal to build the 262 MW Puente natural gas facility as it reviews whether or not to withdraw its application, likely terminating the project.
- NRG's request follows a recommendation against approving the facility from a California Energy Commission (CEC) committee assigned to evaluate it, which came significantly ahead of schedule.
- The committee said the plant was "inconsistent" with several laws, regulations and policies, and would "create significant unmitigable environmental effects." The California ISO also filed comments at the California Public Utilities Commission urging it to reconsider its approval of the facility in favor of more renewable energy, efficiency and storage resources to serve local electricity needs.
NRG's request to suspend review of the controversial natural gas facility and ponder a possible withdrawal highlights the pressure it faced from regulators, lawmakers and other stakeholders. State regulators and lawmakers are targeting gas-fired peaking plants for scrutiny, recommending carbon-free alternatives instead.
"NRG has requested to suspend further proceedings on Puente while we consider whether or not to withdraw or proceed with the application for certification," NRG spokesman David Knox told Utility Dive in an email.
Despite CPUC approval last year, Puente wasn't immune to the scrutiny, especially as the CEC received hundreds of comments protesting the proposed natural gas plant as another potential pollution source, the Los Angeles Times reported. It was originally slated to come online in 2020, but attracted attention over concerns the state is overbuilding gas generation despite its ambitious renewable energy and climate goals. These concerns framed the recommendation from the CEC committee.
"We cannot recommend approval of a project that creates significant unmitigable impacts or is inconsistent with [Laws, Ordinances, Regulations and Standards] unless we make the override findings required by law," the committee wrote in a statement. "We acknowledge that this statement is unusual, but observe that it in no way impairs the rights of the applicant or any other party."
California's grid operator recently agreed to examine alternatives to the plant after pressure from lawmakers. Clean energy and green groups urged regulators and lawmakers to pivot to solar, efficiency and storage as a more cost-effective way to meet power needs and reduce emissions.
The grid operator released a report in August, noting three clean energy alternatives to Puente could cost between $309 million and $1.1 billion. Earlier this month, CAISO urged less fossil fuel use and more renewable energy, including additional distributed generation, and promoted more regional sharing of resources.