Power plant is officially closed

Today, the Pacific Gas & Electric Company officially turns off its controversial Hunters Point Power Plant for good. But the switch was actually flipped earlier this month, and local residents said they are already breathing easier.

The Huntersview Mothers Committee and other neighbors of the plant had a celebratory outdoor dinner Friday night to rejoice in the plant’s closure, a goal they’d been working on for 10 years, committee member Marie Harrison said.

“We’ve not had them [children] outside for a long time … just because of the toxic mess that was out there,” she said. “We can definitely feel the difference.”

The plant first began generating electricity for San Franciscans in 1929, when it was safely on the outskirts of town, PG&E Vice President Robert Harris said. But over the years, the city expanded to surround the plant. In recent decades, residents of the Bayview Hunters Point area began complaining of high rates of asthma and other diseases they believe are linked to the plant, as well as to the nearby naval shipyard, the still-operating Mirant power plant, two freeways and other potential polluters.

Approximately 10 percent of all Bayview-Hunters Point residents have asthma and 15.5 percent of the neighborhood’s children suffer from asthma, higher than the national average, according to a 1999 study by a task force working in cooperation with The City’s Department of Public Health and the University of California, San Francisco.

PG&E entered into an agreement with the city and county of San Francisco to shut down the plant in 1998. Since then, it has been working on approximately $320 million in projects to compensate for the loss of the plant, as required by regulators, and meet the region’s growing power needs. The largest project was the $220 million Jefferson-Martin power line stretching the length of San Mateo County, which was completed this spring.

The utility has reduced pollution output by the plant sharply over the past decade, federal records show, with the biggest drop occurring between 2001 and 2002. The plant could have remained a viable power source, as it was operating within environmental regulations and not losing money, Robert Harris said.

“We’re very proud of the collaborative process we engaged in,” he said. “The community did have concerns. We listened to those concerns and ultimately came to an agreement [to close the plant].”

PG&E plans to dismantle the plant, then clean the site to bring it up to state environmental codes prior to selling the property. San Francisco’s government has first right of refusal. The company will be using local labor for the cleanup process, Robert Harris said.

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