Peaker plan afloat - Page 2

Strange political alliance opposes city plan for new fossil fuel power plants and looks for creative alternatives

And has the city been forceful enough with CAL-ISO when it comes to planning the city's energy future?

Alioto-Pier has introduced two resolutions addressing a couple of these issues. One calls for a straight-up feasibility study — which supporters of the peakers have waived. "The city has a policy of conducting a full fiscal analysis of capital projects over $25 million," Alioto-Pier said in a press release. "This should be no exception." Her other resolution asks for an independent analysis of the whole thing and a revised 2008 Energy Action Plan for the city.

For several years, Cal-ISO has said Mirant could stop operating if San Francisco can provide an alternate "firm" power source in its Energy Action Plan. In 2004, San Francisco's Public Utilities Commission proffered the peakers, and that became the city's power plan before adopting the CCA (community choice aggregation) plan for the city to develop an energy portfolio of at least 51 percent renewables.

Though the SFPUC has continuously asked Cal-ISO if the 2004 Action Plan is still the way to go now that the Trans Bay Cable and other line improvements have come into play, Josh Arce, a lawyer for Brightline Defense, which sued to stop the peaker plan, says they've been framing the question all wrong: "The PUC has essentially been saying, 'Does the Action Plan include all four combustion turbines?' And Cal-ISO has said, 'Yes, it includes all four.' Instead, the PUC needs to come up with a new Action Plan and give it to Cal-ISO and say we're doing this instead."

Alioto-Pier's resolution, if passed, could prompt a fresh response from Cal-ISO about what the city really needs — one, two, or three peakers, or maybe none at all. Maxwell's resolution includes a caveat that the city must determine if needs could be met by building smaller plants with fewer than the four turbines currently proposed.

Peskin, who chairs the city's Government Audit and Oversight Committee and will hear both Alioto-Pier resolutions on May 5, as well as the Maxwell plan to move to build the peakers, told us, "This is one of the toughest decisions that's been before me in the eight years that I've been on the Board of Supervisors."

No one, it seems, really wants to build two fossil fuel–burning power plants on San Francisco soil. But what if they weren't on our soil? What if they were floating on barges?

Another resolution pending in the Land Use Committee, brought by Mirkarimi, proposes putting the two power plants on barges, which could be moored alongside the city when needed and dispatched elsewhere when they're not. What if, a few years from now, citizens are able to cut down their power needs, CCA brings more renewables online, and the city finds it no longer needs the 200 megawatts generated by natural gas power plants?

Proponents say it's an option worth considering if the city really intends to eventually close the plants. Dismantling a facility if the city decides to sell leaches away 20 to 30 percent of its overall cost. But if it's on a barge, the natural gas, electricity, and mooring lines are simply cast off. A barge would be steadier in an earthquake and continue to float if the sea level rises — a climate change scenario that could swamp both current bayside power plant sites. Barges also can be dispatched to emergencies, leased down the river to other cities in the Bay Area, or sold for a profit. They've been in use around the world since the 1940s and have been called a more regional approach to energy planning.

"It's 145 MW of portable energy," said Rick Galbreath, Mirkarimi's aide. "You can pull it up, plug it in, and you're on the grid.