"Cal-ISO has consistently said in writing, in verbal instructions, and at meetings, that the CTs are the only specific project that was sufficient to remove the RMR [reliability must-run contract] from Mirant," said SFPUC spokesperson Tony Winnicker.
As San Francisco's energy plans have evolved over recent years, SFPUC staff have been instructed at numerous public hearings in front of the Board of Supervisors to ask Cal-ISO if all four CTs are still necessary. Letters obtained by the Guardian show Cal-ISO has never said the airport CT isn't necessary until now. When asked why, Cal-ISO spokesperson Stephanie McCorkle said, "The questions are not the same. That's why the answers are different."
When pushed for more details on what's different, she said, "We feel the introduction of the Mirant retrofit fundamentally changes our approach to the fourth peaker. I think it's the megawatts. It's basically the retrofit that changes the picture."
Mirant's peakers currently put out 156 MW, an amount that may be reduced by retrofitting. The city's three peakers would produce 150 MW. Winnicker couldn't explain why the story is changing, telling us, "We're really deferring to the leadership of the mayor and the board because they've been able to get a really different view from Cal-ISO than we've been able to get."
"We've always said we're open to alternatives," McCorkle said. "We can only evaluate what's presented to us and the Mirant retrofit was only presented in mid-May." Opponents of the peaker plan say the new position indicates SFPUC officials haven't been pushing Cal-ISO hard enough or asking the right questions.
"The city hasn't done its due diligence insisting on different configurations of the peakers," Sup. Ross Mirkarimi told us. "What we're learning now we could have learned two years ago." He went on to add, "With the abundant paper trail, one can only surmise or conclude there may have been a presupposed bias on the part of the PUC to the answers expected from Cal-ISO."
The SFPUC has been instructed by the mayor's office to determine if Mirant retrofit diesels would be as clean as the city's CTs. Until that can be proved, some are withholding support.
"I haven't seen any information that a Mirant retrofit is as clean as the peakers," City Attorney Dennis Herrera told the Guardian. "From my perspective, I want the most environmentally clean solution."
To that end, some would like to see a formal presentation to Cal-ISO of a "transmission-only" alternative, which would outline a number of line upgrades and efficiencies that would obviate the need for any in-city power plants. Sup. Maxwell introduced a resolution urging the SFPUC to put such a proposal before Cal-ISO and to enact strict criteria for any alternative to the city's CTs.
"We need to remember that Mirant was a bad actor. Mirant is not to be trusted," Maxwell said.