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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

Jane Kay

Oct. 04, 2000

California energy agency proposes mobile generators

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 about conservation.

"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.

'Peaker' 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 mobile generators.


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 a 45-mega

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 the airport.

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 electricity.

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 requirements."

"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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Michael R. Meuser
Data Research & GIS Specialist is an independent firm specializing in GIS project development and data research. We created the first U.S. based interactive toxic chemical facility maps on the internet in 1996 and we have been online ever since. Learn more about us and our services.

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