"This plant has been part of the reliable supply for San Francisco ... for a long time. And more recently, it actually provided the security for San Francisco should anything happen outside of San Francisco," Yakout Mansour, president and CEO of the CalISO said during the shutdown ceremony. "But the time is here to replace the plant with an alternative to make the city more secure and reliable with much less polluting options."
The CalISO issued a letter to the plant owner, which recently merged with another company and changed its name from Mirant to GenOn, stating that the must-run agreement would be terminated effective Jan. 1. The date of the final termination is Feb. 28, pending approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Now the major question is what will become of the power plant site, a vast strip of industrial real estate wedged between Illinois Street and the waterfront. "Many ideas have been thrown out there. People have come to us and said everything from office and industrial and research and development, to wind turbines," noted Sam Lauter, a local spokesperson for GenOn. Lauter noted that community meetings would be held soon to discuss the future site use.
The site was previously owned by PG&E, and the utility is responsible for cleaning up lingering toxic residue including lampblack, a byproduct of coal processing, left behind when PG&E sold the site. Because of the pollution, residential units cannot legally be constructed on the site, even after cleanup.
There is one unfortunate consequence to shuttering the plant. According to plant manager Mike Montany, five or six of the 28 employees of the plant will lose their jobs. The rest will either retire or go to work at a new facility, he said.
While San Francisco will be poised to ring in the new year with improved air quality thanks to the elimination of its last polluting energy facility, residents of the area where the city's power will now be sourced from won't be so lucky. They are faced with the construction of two new power plants. The undersea Trans Bay Cable will run from the PG&E's substation in San Francisco — a humming network of cables and transformers located beside the power plant that will stay put after the shutdown — to a generating station in Pittsburg, located in the delta near the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.
GenOn owns the Pittsburg power plant, and it recently held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new power plant in neighboring Antioch, called Marsh Landing. At the same time, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recently gave the green light for another new power plant in that area. The $1.5 billion PG&E facility would be located in Oakley, which borders Antioch. It won commission approval Dec. 16, despite an earlier decision rejecting the proposal.
The plans for new power plants were approved just after the conclusion of an important United Nations convention on Climate Change in Cancún, Mexico, and amid news reports highlighting scientists' conclusion that polar bears have a shot at survival only if serious efforts are taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While the cheerful ceremony to shut down the Potrero power plant was a satisfying conclusion to a long battle, there's a long road yet ahead in the overarching struggle against climate change.