EDITORIAL It's taken years, even decades of fighting, but the noxious, deadly Hunters Point power plant finally shut down this month. After a string of lies and broken promises, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. bowed to community pressure and pulled the switch May 15, stopping the flow of asthma-causing pollution from the ancient smokestacks and immediately offering cleaner air to a neighborhood that has been plagued by respiratory illness.
It was huge victory for groups like Greenaction, which has been pushing for a shutdown, and community leaders like Marie Harrison, who helped keep the plant on the political agenda. The deal they finally forced on PG&E: The company had to agree that as soon as state regulators agreed that San Francisco had adequate electricity sources without the plant, it would be closed.
And now it's time to use the momentum to go after the other pollution-spewing power plant in the southeast — Mirant Corp.'s Bayside behemoth. The Mirant plant not only spews pollution into the air, but it also causes extensive environmental damage to the bay. According to Communities for a Better Environment, the Mirant plant uses 226 million gallons of bay water every day for cooling. The water is sucked in, circulated to cool the turbines, and then discharged. The process stirs up sediments at the bottom of the bay that are laced with toxic mercury, dioxin, copper, and PCBs — and then those sediments are drawn into the plant, whirled around, heated up, and sent back out into the bay, where they contaminate fish and generally wreak environmental havoc.
The old-fashioned cooling system doesn't meet modern environmental standards, but Mirant wants to keep using it. There are alternatives — including so-called dry cooling, which uses little water — but the company doesn't want to pay to retrofit the plant. Instead, Mirant has applied for an extension of its existing permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed an opposition brief, and a decision is pending. The water board should deny the permit and force Mirant to either abide by modern standards or close the place down.
In fact, that ought to be the endgame anyway: Mirant has never committed to shutting down the plant, even if it becomes unnecessary as a local power source. The Board of Supervisors should pass a resolution establishing as city policy the need to close the facility, and should demand that Mirant agree to a schedule to turn off its fossil-fuel power generation program as soon as the city can replace the energy with renewables.
This is exactly the sort of decision a public power agency could and would make — and Mirant's intransigence is another sound reason for San Francisco to proceed at full speed with plans to implement a full-scale public power system, in which elected officials, not private corporations, control the city's energy mix. SFBG