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Five Temporary Power Plants Being Considered for San Francisco Bay Area
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Source: San Francisco Chronicle

Editorial Comment: Back a few months ago I saw folks wearing "NO MORE URBAN POWER PLANTS" t-shirts at a meeting where they were discussing problems associated with the proposed CISCO facility in South Santa Clara County. One person quoted in the following article says that power plants should be built in unpopulated areas. Interesting reactions!

I think it's about time that we stop externalizing the costs of over consumption. Stop exporting pollution to "unpopulated" areas and make others pay the price. Stop environmental injustice. These "unpopulated" areas are populated by all sorts of non-human animal and plant life -- do they count? Some of these "unpopulated" areas are populated by American Indians -- do they count? Not likely.

living next to a power plant can be hell. I now live within 12 miles of one that has just been approved for a large increase. Years ago I lived within 3 miles of the nuclear powerplant in Eureka when it was still operating. Not fun.

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Power plants belong close to the source of consumption for a couple of reasons. It's more efficient as there is less line loss. It's more equitable. Once we stop externalizing the consequences of power use and suffering the consequences ourselves we may think harder about simple alternatives like less consumption (smaller houses, fewer appliances, turning off the damn computer when it's not being used, not buying monitors that are bigger than your desk, resisting upgrades, etc.). I have to laugh when I see an ad showing a 4,000 sq. ft. "baloon" house that uses 25% less energy. 25% less than a 1,000 sq. ft. house? I don't think so! We might think harder about some of the viable non-fossil fuel alternatives that are doable right now as well. I know - fat chance.

---------

Five Temporary Power Plants Being Considered
Some residents oppose Bay Area plan

Alan Gathright, Angelica Pence, Chronicle Staff Writers

Thursday, October 26, 2000

Sparking neighborhood opposition, five temporary power plants are being proposed at Bay Area sites in an effort to boost energy supplies by June and avoid a repetition of last summer's brownouts.

The California Energy Commission said it has created a rigorous approval process for the small, ``temporary'' natural-gas-fired plants. But residents living near proposed urban sites are worried about air and noise pollution. They also point to a new state law that allows the temporary facilities to be replaced with larger, permanent cleaner-burning plants.

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``I'm sure there will be litigation over these plants,'' said Nettie Hoge, executive director of The Utility Reform Network (TURN) in San Francisco. ``People aren't just going to sit back and let them be put in their backyard. The siting problems are going to be legendary.''

Calpine Energy Corp. went before the Energy Commission yesterday to ask for expedited approval of four plants in San Mateo, Brisbane, Newark and Santa Clara, each providing enough power for about 90,000 households. The fifth Bay Area plant is being proposed by El Paso Merchant Energy, which wants expedited approval to build a smaller plant at San Francisco International Airport.

But only Merchant Energy's SFO plant proposal was given the go- ahead to begin its environmental review process, according to Claudia Chandler, an assistant executive director with the Energy Commission.

Because of the goal to have the plants operating by June, Calpine faces a Tuesday deadline to win the commission's initial approval of their construction plans and environmental data. If the commission deems Calpine's data ``adequate,'' the agency then has 25 days to hold public hearings and complete the expedited review.

Rolling brownouts this summer throughout the state emphasized the need for California to shore up on power.

Gov. Gray Davis signed a law in September requiring the Energy Commission to conduct four- month, ``fast-track'' approval of the temporary plants. The law requires the Energy Commission to certify that the plants will not have a ``significant'' adverse environmental impact or harm the public health.

But the biggest hurdle could be placing a 91.2-megawatt power plant at the bayside Coyote Point Park, the most popular park in San Mateo County. The plant consists of four jet-enginelike gas turbines with air-pollution controls that will feed an adjacent Pacific Gas and Electric Co. substation with enough power to supply 91,000 homes.

``We looked for sites that could put in a plant to an existing source of power,'' said Lance Shaw, a siting project manager for the Energy Commission. ``The process is much quicker that way.''

The single-cycle turbines used at the ``temporary'' plants are twice as polluting as a full-size natural-gas plant, emitting 5 parts per million of nitrogen-oxide particles compared with 2 parts per million at Calpine's controversial plant planned for San Jose's Coyote Valley. The San Mateo plant would operate 12 hours daily, five days a week from June through October until 2003, when it will close, according to state documents.

San Mateo resident John Poultney said he was stunned to get a notice in the mail Saturday telling him that the plant could be built within 1,000 feet of his home and near Coyote Point Park's popular bayside bike trail, marina and a San Mateo golf course.

``This is not a good place to put smokestacks -- not that there is any good place,'' said Poultney, 36, a telecommunications magazine editor. ``It seems kind like a no-brainer: They should build these plants in unpopulated areas and then spend a little more money building extra transmission lines.

``I sure as hell plan to talk to my neighbors about this.''

Bill Highlander, a spokesman for San Jose-based Calpine, said while the smaller plants ``do not run as clean as the engines we use in our bigger power plants,'' they are far less polluting than the diesel generators many firms use during power blackouts now.

``I think if people take the time to try to understand the impact and benefits of these (energy) solutions, their concerns will be eased,'' he said.

But residents' bigger concern is that the state law says the temporary plants must cease operation after three years -- unless they're replaced by bigger, cleaner-burning plants.

``It's been my experience that once they set up something like this, it doesn't just go away,'' Poultney said. ``We've got a growing need for energy.''

Highlander said Calpine sees a market for four major power plants in the Bay Area and is proceeding with two, including a 880-megawatt facility under construction in Pittsburg and the proposed 600-megawatt plant in San Jose. He stressed that the company has made no commitment to transform any of the five proposed temporary plants into a bigger permanent facilities.

One thing for sure, Californians need to agree on stopgap energy solutions -- and soon.

``We're facing a pretty dire situation where we had one rolling blackout in the Bay Area this year, and the numbers are looking worse for next summer,'' said consumer attorney Mike Florio of TURN.

``There's the (energy) cost considerations, the environmental considerations, and then there's the keeping-the-lights-on considerations. Trying to find a workable solution within those constraints that can be done in nine months is a hell of an undertaking.''

E-mail Alan Gathright at [email protected] and Angelica Pence at [email protected]

2000 San Francisco Chronicle Page A21

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