SDG&E maintenance yard could move to Carlsbad Mall

An agreement is near on plans to move the San Diego Gas & Electric Company regional maintenance yard from the former Encina Power Plant property to a location outside The Shoppes at Carlsbad mall on El Camino Real.

The search for a new maintenance yard has been ongoing since the city, NRG and SDG&E signed an agreement eight years ago to demolish the coastal plant and its 400-foot-tall chimney, but some hurdles remain. The mall’s location, along the south side of Buena Vista Creek and State Route 78, is a relatively new addition to more than a dozen sites considered so far.

“It’s not an easy project,” said city attorney Celia Brewer, who helped forge the 2014 deal between owner SDG&E, power plant owner NRG and the city, during a hearing. a discussion of the project by Carlsbad City Council last week.

Important at the time was the closure of the San Onofre nuclear plant and fears that the loss of the major power source would destabilize the grid. For this reason, regulators have approved a new, more efficient “peak plant” to replace Encina’s old plant. NRG built the new plant, now in operation, on the eastern edge of the Encina property.

Carlsbad opposed the new plant, saying the coastal site would be better suited to other uses such as tourism or recreation.

The 2014 deal brought “a host of benefits to the city,” including the removal of the old powerhouse and maintenance yard, Brewer said.

The maintenance yard on Cannon Road, just east of Cannon Park, has been around since the Encina Generating Station was built in the 1950s. The yard operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to provide a emergency service on miles of power and gas lines serving more than 250,000 customers from Camp Pendleton to Del Mar and inland to Fallbrook, Vista and Rancho Santa Fe.

A 16-acre site known as Lot 11, also on Cannon Road and near Strawberry Fields less than a mile east of the existing yard, was at first considered the most desirable new location. likely. However, SDG&E now says further studies have shown Lot 11 is unfeasible due to geotechnical issues and the utility company needs a different location.

Last year, Carlsbad proposed the site for the mall and brought the mall’s owner, Brookfield Properties, into the negotiations.

Brookfield owns the mall buildings and the land on which they sit. The city owns approximately 45 acres, half of the 90-acre mall, and city property is restricted by deed to be used for parking only.

The proposed mall land for the maintenance yard, likely 10 to 12 acres, is on the northwest side of the parking lot. Although wholly owned by Carlsbad, part of the site is located in nearby Oceanside.

Moving the maintenance yard to the mall could benefit everyone, including Brookfield, said Ted Lohman, vice president of corporate development.

For one, the deal could open the door for residential development of deed-restricted parking property around buildings, Lohman said. The city has included the mall’s residential development in its long-range plans for years.

“Housing would have a synergistic relationship with the (commercial) center,” Lohman said, and it would help address the “huge housing shortage” the area faces.

Malls all over the world are suffering financially due to the long and steady trend towards online retail and more recently due to pandemic restrictions. Many traditional retail establishments are looking for new ways to stay viable.

“A relocation of SDG&E could be a catalyst for driving a more extensive redevelopment,” Lohman said, but like other speakers, he stressed the need to act quickly.

“Time is not our friend,” he said. “We need some finality on this now.”

An agreement to relocate the yard would give Carlsbad ownership of three SDG&E coastal properties – the 16-acre maintenance yard, the 1.7-acre Cannon Park now leased by the city at the corner of Cannon and Carlsbad Boulevard, and approximately 5 acres of vacant property on the north shore of Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

Additionally, once the location is chosen, NRG pledges to contribute $22.5 million to help pay for the maintenance yard move. If no location is found, SDG&E loses the money and NRG would pay Carlsbad $10 million instead.

Another factor in the deal is that SDG&E outgrew the existing yard. The city approved a five-year conditional use permit in 2012 for SDG&E to install a temporary building there to add space. Since then, the city has issued a five-year extension. However, the city advises against the use of temporary buildings, and further expansion would be inconsistent with city code.

“We remain committed to finding an option to relocate the service center,” SDG&E Director of Public Affairs Joe Gabaldon said at the board meeting.

“The service center is the hub for critical work,” Gabaldon said, and the site must be free of flooding and other hazards so that workers and equipment can respond to any emergency.

Soil and hydrology studies are underway at the mall site and results should be available within a few weeks. Cost analyzes are also underway, including the expenditure of any environmental mitigation that may be required.

Ultimately, any decision regarding the move and a new location will be subject to the approval of the state’s Public Utilities Commission, Gabaldon said.

Former Carlsbad council member Mark Packard, who as an elected official helped reach the three-party settlement in 2014, urged everyone to settle in one spot.

“It’s in no one’s interest to delay this any longer,” Packard said.

Demolition of the old factory is nearing completion and is expected to be completed this summer, said John Chillemi, former president of NRG’s western region and now an adviser to the company.

NRG is looking for a partner to help develop the power plant site in a way that meets city zoning and guidelines, Chillemi said.

No details have been released on what might be built. Carlsbad’s general plan allows “commercial and visitor-serving open space uses” on the site, which would improve public access to the coast, according to the city’s website.

“We look forward to working with the community to shape this plan,” Chillemi said. “If the service center is relocated, (that) would be the best way forward and compatible with the agreement signed in 2014.”

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Peggy P. Gilmore