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Clean energy up in smoke?

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A plan to build a cleaner Potrero Hill power plant in hopes of shutting down anexisting and more polluting one in the neighborhood was supported Monday by some members of the Board of Supervisors amid criticism that The City should only pursue renewable energy sources.

A resolution supporting the plan — a $230 million combustion turbine power plant to generate 150 megawatts of electricity within The City — was approved by the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee on Monday and will be up for a vote by the full board today, in time to send a clear message to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which is expected to vote on the project Wednesday.

The SFPUC would finalize a contract with Illinois-based J-Power USA Development Co. to build a new plant, and submit the contract to the board next month for final approval.

In order for the existing Mirant Potrero plant to be shut down, The City has to have an alternative energy source of equal output, according to the state regulatory agency, the California Independent System Operator.

Opponents of the plan say The City should instead use renewable energy sources, not a fuel-burning plant, to satisfy energy demand requirements. They also worry that even if the new plant is built, the Mirant Potrero plant would not shut down, leaving a neighborhood with two sources of pollution.

Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, who represents District 10, which includes the Mirant plant, said that while supporting the proposal is like choosing “the lesser of two evils,” she said it does ensure Mirant closes on a “definite date.” The plan has received the support of Mayor Gavin Newsom and Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin.

Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier came out against the plan Monday, saying “we cannot replace Mirant with another fossil-fuel power source” and that The City should lead the way “in providing alternative clean energy.”

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has also opposed the new power plant, saying it could meet the energy needs of The City, but Tony Irons, deputy general manager of the SFPUC, said the PG&E proposal would not satisfy requirements to be able to shut down the Mirant plant.

“There are no other alternatives,” Irons said, adding that the proposal is “clearly the most effective and most immediate way to put an end to that pollution and the surest way.”

Barbara Hale, the SFPUC’s director of power, policy and planning, said the proposed power plant would have no health impacts. “We are confident that we have, given the permitting restrictions, given the steps we have taken, minimized the health impacts to zero,” she said.

Opponents worry that Mirant would not close even though the new plant was built, but SFPUC staff said that once the new plant is operational, Cal-ISO has pledged to remove its “must-run” status, which would take away any economic incentive for Mirant to remain in operation.

If approved by the Board of Supervisors, the plant could start producing energy in 2009, and SFPUC staff expect the Mirant plant to close sometime during that year.

Old vs. New


Location: Illinois and 25th streets on a 27-acre parcel

Air-pollution emissions: 92.4 nitrogen oxygen tons/yr., 58.13 particulate tons/yr.

Power capacity: 362 megawatts

Age: 30-40 years old

Estimated closure under plan: 2009


Location: 25th and Maryland streets on a 4-acre parcel

Air pollution Emissions: 19.74 nitrogen oxygen tons/yr., 11.25 particulate tons/yr.

Power capacity: 150 megawatts in-city

Estimated operational date: 2009

– Source: SFPUC


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