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Energy developments are on the horizon with Pio Pico, South Bay Substation projects

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A rendering shows plans for Apex Power Group’s new Pio Pico Energy Center in Otay Mesa, which is scheduled to break ground later this year. Courtesy image

Two energy-related projects in the southern part of the county are nearing starts, with the Pio Pico Energy Center and San Diego Gas & Electric's South Bay Substation expected to break ground this year.

Most major hurdles faced by each of the projects were encountered in the past few months, and both came out standing as state regulators gave each project major approvals.

Late last year, the California Public Utilities Commission approved SDG&E's application to construct the substation it had been planning for Bay Boulevard in southwest Chula Vista to replace the South Bay Substation.

The California Coastal Commission approved the project in March with some changes that somewhat satisfied a few groups and Chula Vista City Council members, who disagreed with the overhead building segments of transmission line that will feed into it.

Jennifer Ramp, a spokeswoman for SDG&E, said that even though the plans were approved, the utility still has to receive notices to proceed before shovels can hit the ground.

"We expect to start construction sometime in the next several months, after we get all of the required approvals, including authorization to proceed from the CPUC and the (California) Coastal Commission," Ramp said.

Further inland in Otay Mesa, the Pio Pico Energy Center had its own difficulties, as plans were stalled in early 2013 when the CPUC declined to approve the original power purchase tolling agreement between its developer and SDG&E.

State regulators found that the regional need for the 305-megawatt natural gas "peaker" power plant -- which would run only when high electricity demand requires its supply -- didn't line up with when Apex Energy Group wanted to place it online.

That changed when the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was shuttered for good last summer. The shutdown had already made the plant appear more timely, and the CPUC approved the agreement in February.

The groundbreaking has been stalled by groups hoping to keep the project from going forward, such as the Sierra Club, the California Environmental Justice Alliance and the Protect Our Communities Foundation.

Michael King, principal at Apex Energy Group, not long ago had said the project could start by July. He now says it'll probably be September. While one of the opposing parties has called for a rehearing, no word has come from the commission.

"I don't see it as problematic," King said. "It was a 5-0 vote by the commission; it's been subsequently reinforced by the finding for the replacement of San Onofre."

Last week, the California Independent Systems Operator released its annual summer assessment on power supplies, predicting adequate supplies but with a warning.

"Until longer-term mitigations are in place, southern Orange County and San Diego … will require close attention during summer operations," the assessment noted.

Apex Power Group is waiting for a final action by the CPUC on the rehearing request as it tries to get its final bond financing in place, King said.

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