New Potrero Hill power plant touted as pollution solution

With hopes of shutting down an older power station on Potrero Hill that emits high levels of pollution, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission voted Tuesday to develop a new power plant that would emit considerably less within the same neighborhood.

The new 145-megawatt power plant — which would eventually be city-owned — would use combustion turbines running on natural gas, instead of the diesel fuel used at the Potrero Hill plant at Illinois and 23rd streets.

By a 3-1 vote, the commission approved a resolution giving authority to SFPUC General Manager Susan Leal to complete negotiations and execute agreements to move forward with plans for the new plant, which could begin generating electricity by late 2008.

Commissioner Adam Werbach, the former national president of the Sierra Club, who was the lone vote of dissention, said he felt the solution of swapping one “dirty, fossil fuel” power plant in The City’s southeast sector for another was shortsighted, particularly because a plan was in motion to bring power to San Francisco from Pittsburg by 2010, via an electrical line submerged beneath the floor of the Bay.

In response, Leal told Werbach that the emissions output from the combustion turbines would be minimal compared with that coming out of the Potrero power plant. She also noted that according to a July 12 letter from a state regulatory agency, the California Independent System Operator, or Cal-ISO, San Francisco would not be allowed to shut down the Potrero plant if there were no alternate in-city source of energy.

Commissioner Ann Moller asked if The City had any guarantee that CAL-ISO would shut down the plant if the combustion turbine project were implemented.

SFPUC Deputy General Manager Tony Irons said nothing was certain. “It is a condition, but it may not be the total condition,” he said.

In the end, Commissioner Dennis Normandy voted for the turbine combustion plan with “utmost reluctance,” and Commission President Ryan Brooks supported the resolution because it was the best plan on the table, he said.

“We’re all trying to find ways not to put CTs [combustion turbines] in the neighborhood, but for lack of an alternative, we could do more harm than good,” he said.

On Friday, a letter supporting the combustion turbine power plan was sent to CAL-ISO signed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin and Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, who represents the Potrero Hill neighborhood.

The SFPUC is negotiating a deal in which a private developer, Illinois-based J-Power USA, would design, build, own and operate the combustion turbine plants, with the agreement that it would turn over the plants after a period of 10 to 12 years.

beslinger@examiner.com

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