And JPower will be trying to recoup its money as fast as possible, and will have every incentive to keep the juice flowing.
The combined impact of three new fossil-fuel power plants, running at maximum capacity, and the exiting Mirant plant would be an unacceptable burden for southeast San Francisco - and the SFPUC and the supervisors have to do more than rely on Mirant's vague statements to prevent that from happening.
Ideally, we'd prefer no new fossil-fuel plants in the city at all, and we're not convinced that San Francisco even needs the peakers. Conservation, along with new solar, wind and tidal power, could easily fill the rather modest gap between what San Francisco has now and what it will need in a Mirant-free future. But that decision is in the hands of California Independent System Operator, which controls the grid, and the CAISO insists that Mirant will stay open unless the peakers are running. That agency needs to be reformed, and the state Legislature should take it up next session. The CAISO should be required to consider increased efficiency, conservation and alternative generation as a viable alternative to building and running fossil-fuel plants.
In the meantime, there's a simple solution here: The SFPUC should refuse to give the peakers a green light unless the city controls the on-off switch. Specifically, the contract should limit the number of hours the turbines can operate - and must state specifically that they can never be turned on until Mirant is shut off for good.
In a September, 2007, environmental assessment, the SF Department of Public Health noted that "it's imperative that the city ... obtains an agreement from Mirant to secure closure of the [Potrero] plant before the final approval of the SFPUC to site the new CTs." That may not be possible, since Mirant isn't cooperating - but the city has every right to set rules about when the CTs can run.
It's simple: When Mirant throws the off switch, and that plant is cold and dead forever, JPower and the city can turn the peakers on. Not one minute before.