Margaret Connell’s article highlighting quality-of-life challenges in Goleta’s burst of residential and commercial development omitted Southern California Edison’s (SCE) proposal before the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to refurbish the Ellwood “peaker plant,” situated in the midst of residential tracts and less than 1,000 feet from Ellwood Elementary School. The plant houses two gas-fired jet-engine turbines that emit excessive carbon pollution and cancer-causing fine particulates.
The plant is supposed to operate only during periods of peak electricity use when demand exceeds the capacity of SCE’s single line of high voltage towers traversing the mountains from a substation in Ventura County. It is not clear that the plant runs only during such peak periods: Residents living next to the plant have reported that it runs at night.
SCE has conceded the vulnerability of the towers, and concerns have been raised that, due to erosion, towers could topple in a severe storm, wildfire, or earthquake. Because of the mountainous terrain and remoteness of the line, replacing a collapsed tower could take months. In such case, the Ellwood plant would be the primary source of electricity for Santa Barbara and Goleta, and it would run 24/7 in an area packed with residential housing and adjoining the ecologically sensitive Ellwood Mesa.
Refurbishing the plant would mean that we would be stuck with this outmoded fossil-fuel-burning, polluting technology for the next 30 years. Local organizations are advocating that SCE partner with local governments to invest in clean, renewable electricity generated by solar panels — starting with panels on government buildings, public schools, commercial buildings, parking lots, etc., rather than refurbishing the Ellwood plant. As a 13-year resident of Ellwood, I favor “Santa Barbara Resilient, Reliable, Renewable,” a plan that will supply locally generated electricity and create jobs installing and maintaining solar panels and battery storage systems in microgrids.