Cool View Regained

South Bay Power PlantPhoto: portofsandiego.org
South Bay Power Plant
Photo: portofsandiego.org

Chula Vista means something like ‘cool view’ and that’s what San Diego Port authorities and environmentalists had in mind when they fought for the demolition of the 1950s power plant relic located on the shores of Chula Vista, California. The eyesore was taking up prime bayside real estate, and was blocking the cool view, both of the wetlands area on the California coastline, and of the real estate and development potential of the land. The plant pumped out 700 megawatts of power an estimated 5800 tons of emissions into the air every year. It started out using oil as fuel, and later switched to natural gas, supplying power to 40% of San Diego County.

“Demolishing the power plant with a single implosion will expedite creation of an unobstructed view corridor for the residents of Chula Vista and moves us closer to creating a world-class resort and residential destination on our portion of San Diego Bay as outlined in the Chula Vista Bayfront Plan,” said Mayor Cheryl Cox, quoted in a local newspaper article. The project, costing about $60 million, will generate an estimated 21,000 tons of recyclable metals, and another 3,400 tons of non-hazardous waste, such as wood and plastic. I was unable to find any mention of the amount of hazardous waste removed, although some articles mentioned asbestos.

A large wetlands renovation project is underway to try and undo some of the damage caused by the power plant, as well as other long-term human impact. After all, this power plant is located near a large military installation, one of California’s largest cities, and a large port.

I’m sure when it was built, it was seen as an indispensable boon, both in terms of power supply and employment – a large stride into the future, powering a modern city from the shores of a bay that was already under heavy development. With the exception of a few beachcombers and birdwatchers, I’m sure few people would have argued its value or relevance. Fifty years later, it’s a poorly placed, outdated, inefficient toxic eyesore.

So, when I think about the ongoing development of criteria for sustainable power generation that are (in theory) more environmentally sensitive while still being both efficient and profitable, I wonder this: Which of these criteria that we currently consider acceptable, or relevant, or indispensable will, in fifty years, be judged with the same critical eye and dismay we now cast upon the defunct Chula Vista plant?

Photo: Reuters/Sam Hodgson
Photo: Reuters/Sam Hodgson