The beginning of the end of big, climate-changing power plants in California

Plans to build a new natural-gas-fueled power plant on the Ventura County coast had been in the works for years, and the project seemed like an all-but-done deal just a few short weeks ago.

The Puente Energy Project, to be built and operated by NRG Energy, had obtained most of the necessary approvals and was preparing for the final go-ahead from the California Energy Commission. It was a project similar to other recently approved plants in Huntington Beach and Carlsbad.

Then, suddenly, the deal started to come apart — much to the happy surprise of environmentalists who opposed it on the grounds that it was unnecessary and conflicted with the state’s clean energy goals, and to Oxnard officials and activists who were tired of industrial projects being sited time and again on their border. In just this small stretch of the California coastline, there are three power plants, two military installations, a number of oil fields and one slag heap so toxic that the Environmental Protection Agency declared it a Superfund site 10 years ago.

Now it seems likely that the Puente plant will never get built and, in fact, may herald a shift in how the state measures and addresses its need for electricity. Changes in technology and tough new energy policy goals have brought the end of the fossil-fueled-power era in California within sight, and hallelujah to that. The state’s power plants already generate more electricity than its residents can use, as a Los Angeles Times investigation found earlier this year, costing California’s ratepayers billions of dollars. There’s no sense in paying for another one if there are cleaner options.

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