Power plant at crucial planning stage

A controversial plan to build a new, cleaner power plant on Potrero Hill in hopes of shutting down an aging, more polluting plant in the same neighborhood will be discussed at a special meeting of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission today.

Opponents of the plan say any fuel-burning plant would still be bad news compared with utilizing renewable sources. Commissioners have echoed similar concerns.

The new, $225 million, 150-megawatt power plant — which after 13 years would becity-owned — would utilize combustion turbines, or CTs. According to an October 2006 decision on the CT project by the California Energy Commission, it would boost energy reliability in San Francisco, while “discharging lower levels of NOx [nitrogen oxide] … compared with the existing, older generation facility.”

Today, contract terms with the company negotiating to build the Potrero CT plant — Illinois-based J-Power USA Development Co. — will be presented to the commission. If approved, the plant could begin generating electricity by the start of 2009, according to Barbara Hale, the SFPUC’s director of power, policy and planning.

Although the project has the support of key city officials, including Mayor Gavin Newsom and Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, commissioners indicated at an Oct. 9 meeting that a vote of approval might not come quickly.

SFPUC staff has responded to concerns by pointing out that a state regulatory agency, the California Independent System Operator, or Cal-ISO, said San Francisco would not be allowed to shut down the Mirant Potrero plant if there was no alternate “in-city” source of energy.

“The choices we have today are not good ones,” SFPUC President Ryan Brooks said at the meeting.

A request for the California Energy Commission to reconsider its certification of the proposed plant was filed this month by opponents of the plan. Josh Arce, of the legal organization Brightline Defense, said at the Oct. 9 meeting that the community could be caught in a nightmarish scenario with “two polluting power plants, if and when Mirant puts up a fight.”

Mirant spokeswoman Felicia Browder would not confirm the plant would close down when the new plant became operational.

“For the foreseeable future, the Mirant Potrero power plant will continue to be needed for reliability … we will not speculate on what may or may not happen in the future,” Browderwrote in an e-mail.

Once the new plant is up and running the state would remove Mirant’s “must-run” contracting status, which would reduce its economic incentive to keep running,” Hale said.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is also fighting the new power plant proposal, saying that — through a combination of energy-use reduction programs, new power transmissions and renewable energy sources — it can meet San Francisco’s needs.

Cal-ISO recently indicated that PG&E’s proposal would not be enough to shut down the Mirant plant, Hale said.

beslinger@examiner.com

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