150 Portable Power Plants or 10% Reduction in Energy Consumption? Well, uh, More Power Plants of Course
Fair Use Statement
Source: San Francisco Examiner
Plan to build 150 power plants
EXAMINER ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER
Oct. 04, 2000
California energy agency proposes
An energy agency wants to boost the amount of
electricity around the state by adding 150 mobile
power plants, and is considering a 560-megawatt
plant at San Francisco International Airport.
The California Independent System Operator,
which manages the state's transmission system, says
it is in a race to come up with 1,400 megawatts
before next summer, when consumption is expected
to surpass the capacity of power plants.
But environmentalists familiar with the proposal are
charging the ISO with rushing to get the plants in
place by using a new streamlined approval system
while ignoring conservation measures.
ISO spokesman Patrick Dorinson responded
Tuesday by saying the ISO's job is to find
much-needed new sources of power. It's up to the
California Public Utilities Commission to worry
"We anticipate next summer's demand to be even
higher than this summer's," Dorinson said. "The ISO
is looking for ways to get more energy and also
maintain reliability of the system."
In June, high energy demand forced the ISO to
order brownouts in the Bay Area to ward off a
crash of the overburdened system. In August and
September, the state approached maximum
capacity of about 45,000 megawatts.
On Wednesday, the ISO's board of directors
scheduled a vote on whether to allow its staff to
proceed with negotiations with about 70 companies
to operate the mobile power plants.
The so-called "peaker" plants would be installed at
existing utility company substations and would
operate for three years on hot summer days at peak
demand between 3 and 6 p.m.
The ISO has yet to reveal which of the 150
substations of 2,182 in the state are candidates for
Yet, overburdened grids in the Bay Area and San
Diego are likely candidates, Dorinson said.
The California Energy Commission has received
only one application for a peaker plant, said Claudia
Chandler, the agency's assistant executive director.
El Paso Energy has requested permission to operate
watt natural gas plant at SFO by August. Calling it
the United Golden Gate project, El Paso Energy
eventually would like to produce 560 megawatts at
That compares in size to two new natural gas plants
that are coming on line in Pittsburg after lengthy
environmental review: the 500-megawatt Los
Medanos, built by Calpine and slated to begin
operating in July 2001, and the 880-megawatt Delta
Energy Center, built by Calpine-Bechtel, scheduled
for completion in June 2002.
Chandler said in contrast to these big plants, the
peaker plants are neither an efficient nor an
economical way to generate electricity.
They are simple-cycle plants, which burn natural gas
to produce electricity. The combined-cycle
Pittsburg plants take waste heat from the burn and
recycle it back through the turbine to make more
Effect on the environment
The ISO's proposal is possible because of a new
law that expanded an executive order issued in
August by Gov. Davis.
The law created a fast track for small power plants
- approval within four months - as long as the
owners promise to upgrade or remove them from
service within three years. Also, the plants can't
have a significant adverse effect on the environment.
But some environmental groups are warning that the
proposal could place pollutant-spewing generators
in unsuspecting neighborhoods with substations that
don't meet today's zoning requirements.
Bradley Angel, executive director of San
Francisco-based Greenaction, called the ISO's
proposal an "end run around environmental review
"It's quite a scam. This is an onslaught of potential
power plants that could have a serious negative
effect on the health of the people of the Bay Area
and all of California," Angel said.
Speeded up permitting
Under the speeded up permitting process, the
Energy Commission has the lead authority to issue
permits. If the generators are smaller than 50
megawatts, the Energy Commission cedes that
authority to local boards of supervisors.
Regional air quality districts would have only
advisory authority and couldn't halt or modify
projects unless they spewed visible emissions.
Yet, before any agency issued permits to add
power in Northern California, the Bay Area Air
Quality Management District "would prefer that all
energy providers start a concerted public outreach
program dealing with the energy conservation
issue," said spokeswoman Lena Salaver.
Alan Ramo, law professor and director of the
Golden Gate University Environmental Law and
Justice Clinic, also called for the ISO to pay more
attention to conservation.
"It's outrageous that the ISO is claiming that it can't
do anything about conservation or green alternatives
because it's only in the transmission business. Then
it turns around and tries to stuff polluting small
power plants throughout California in the name of
the energy crisis," Ramo said.
"The energy crisis could be solved much more
quickly by a mere 10 percent reduction in demand."
©2000 San Francisco Examiner Page A1
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