Plant retrofits could spark new life

San Francisco does not need to build planned new power plants, state regulators told Mayor Gavin Newsom on Monday.

An aging and polluting power plant at Potrero Hill has long been targeted for closure by city officials who planned to replace it by building a cleaner, natural-gas-burning plant.

A vote on the plan to build a new plant at Potrero is scheduled for today at the Board of Supervisors. The vote had been postponed for several weeks at the request of Newsom, who said he wanted to explore more environmentally friendly alternatives.

The California Independent Systems Operator, or Cal-ISO, the agency that oversees the state’s power supply, said in its letter to Newsom that an underwater Transbay cable expected to be built by 2010 to carry up to 400 megawatts of electricity from Pittsburg to San Francisco will sufficiently protect The City against blackouts if the owner of the existing Potrero plant, Mirant Corp., shut down its biggest and most polluting generator.

Mirant, however, would need to eventually upgrade three of the power plant’s backup diesel generators if new power plants are not built, Cal-ISO President Yakout Mansour told Newsom, adding that ratepayer funding mightbe available to help meet those costs.

Newsom told The Examiner on Monday that the Mirant generators could be retrofitted with new technology to run more cleanly and that they could be changed to run on natural gas, which is a less polluting fuel than diesel.

The City still needs to explore longer-term solutions to entirely replace the Mirant plant, Newsom said.

“Its one thing to retrofit but it’s another to shut it down, and the only way to shut it down is to replace its power or come up with a radical alternative-energy strategy,” Newsom said.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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