Editorial: A win for Bay Area cooperation

Ten working days after the new 27-mile Jefferson Martin Transmission Line began powering as much as 400 megawatts throughout the Peninsula and into San Francisco, the polluting 77-year-old Hunters Point Power Plant was shut down permanently on May 15.

That was a good day for southeast San Francisco, and it was a long time coming. The entire process took almost 10 years and went through many changes, andthe transmission line’s completion was a prime example of just how much determination is required for developing major construction in densely populated urban areas such as the Bay Area.

And it also helps when an all-too-rare instance of municipal cooperation takes place at a crucial moment, as happened when San Bruno agreed to allow an underground power line to traverse its city east-west for the crucial routing link enabling Jefferson Martin to go forward in 2003.

In the late 1990s, the need for substantially more electricity in northern San Mateo County and San Francisco was increasingly apparent. At the same time, community activists in Hunters Point had long complained about what appeared to be unusually high disease rates in the neighborhoods surrounding the old power plant.

Pacific Gas & Electric was not averse to shutting down a generator facility that was reaching the end of its useful life. And in 1997, the California Independent System Operator, which administers the state’s power grid, approved closure of the Hunters Point Power Plant as soon as a replacement electricity supply was operational.

After studying as many as 14 alternate plans in consultation with the California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E applied in 2002 to build the Jefferson Martin line from a substation at the southwest corner of San Carlos along the Peninsula into another substation in southern San Francisco.

PG&E’s original concept was to keep the southernmost 13 miles of the power line above ground by expanding an existing 60kV tower route a few blocks east of Skyline Boulevard. Owners of the expensive residences near the towers blocked that option, although they failed at their attempt to get the older line removed.

At that point, San Bruno expressed willingness to let an underground power line cross eastward on San Bruno Avenue to the BART tracks. In return, PG&E obtained PUC approval totake the line aboveground and thus did not need to build a large transmission station in the hills of San Bruno.

That is how the final route of the Jefferson Martin Line was constructed, finishing on schedule although $41 million more expensive than the original $180 million estimate. Its capacity to deliver power is twice as much as the old plant and, best of all, it promises a new day for the quality of health in Hunters Point.

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