At the May 20 meeting, the Board of Supervisors agreed to a two-week hold on a plan to build two combustion turbine “peaker” power plants in the city. (Also known as the CTs.) The delayed legislation was also amended by Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who injected a 90-day due diligence period into the process.
Translation: if the Board, two weeks from now, passes the plan to build the peakers, a 90-day due diligence period kicks in. And if, during that period, the SFPUC general manager finds that another plan meets a certain list of criteria (which are included in the amendments and can be read here), then he can kill the city’s peaker plan and put forth the alternative. The alternative would still have to go through all the permitting and planning processes that the city’s peakers have already weathered, but the city’s peaker project would be dead.
Elsbernd’s amendments contain a list of qualifications that any alternative must meet, including an agreement that Mirant’s Unit 3 would still close (so the company can redevelop that site for some other profitable commercial use), and that any other “proposed project” would improve environmental quality and city control over energy supplies.
The language here is pretty careful: nowhere does it say that a new proposal must be as clean, if not cleaner, than the city’s peakers. Nor does it say it must be owned by the city.
Elsbernd asked for the two week continuance when introducing the amendments, to give the Board more time to get comfortable with them and "to make sure that the CTs are either the right thing or the wrong thing."
Peskin, describing the motion before them, jabbed that the extra time was for any possible alternative "proposed by PG&E and/or Mirant."
To which Elsbernd took issue, "Actually, I would disagree with your statement," he said. "This is not a proposal from PG&E."
After the item passed, with Sup. Chris Daly citing it as a delay tactic and dissenting, Elsbernd told the Guardian the amendments did not come from the Mayor's staff. "They came from my pretty little head," he said. "I asked the city attorney to draft them for me."
Until last week, Newsom fully supported the city’s peakers, even signing on to letters to the state confirming his commitment to the plan. But on March 5, his staff met with PG&E representatives, who are very much against the city owning its own power generation, and now the Mayor’s staff have been scrambling to come up with alternatives.
What those alternatives may be remains to be detailed, though a lot of questions are being asked of Mirant about what a retrofit of their three diesel peakers would look like.
This whole peaker plan grew out of the community’s desire to close Mirant-Potrero power plant, now considered the largest single-source of pollution in the city. Though the plant’s pollution is negligible compared to what pours from the tailpipes of cars on a nearby stretch of Highway 280, the plant has become a symbol of environmental injustice to people living in the Bayview-Potrero-Dogpatch neighborhoods, and they want it closed. (For some impassioned testimony on how much work they’ve put in, check out Item 11 of this Govt. Audit and Oversight Committee hearing.)
They and the city have spent several years working with the state to determine exactly how Mirant could be closed, and the state’s grid manager, Cal-ISO, says this can only be done if San Francisco replaces it with some other sort of firm, in-city generation. San Francisco won four newer natural gas turbines in an energy crisis settlement, and the solution is to put them in two peaker power plants – one at the airport, one at 25th and Maryland Streets.
So, the city, or PG&E, or any of the environmentalists who also oppose this plan, may now have 90 days to twist arms at Cal-ISO to set a different reliability standard for San Francisco, or come up with an alternative that may or may not be as clean as the city's peakers, and may or may not be owned, operated, and overseen, by the public.