Smoked Out: City Announces Plans to Close Mirant Power Plant -- This Time, Definitely!

smokestack.jpg
Going, going, gone
The final word is in: after more than a decade of activism and negotiations, the Mirant Power Plant will be closing for good by the end of 2010.

"There was really no need to have these dirty power plants continue to exist in San Francisco," City Attorney Dennis Herrera told SF Weekly; he's one of the officials who helped broker an August agreement between the city and the Mirant Corporation, which runs the Potrero Hill plant.

This is news neighbors of the fossil fuel-burning plant have long been waiting for, and the deal is sweetened by a $1 million settlement from Mirant to address pediatric asthma and other complaints critics claim its plant exacerbated in its neighboring communities.

The agreement to close the plant had been on hold pending approval by Cal-ISO, the nonprofit entity that regulates the state's power grid. However urgently the city wanted to close Mirant's smoke-spewing plant, Cal-ISO had the final word on approving the city's power providers.

Since the recession had already decreased power usage, city officials argued that San Francisco no longer needed the Potrero plant. The city's power needs could be met by the new Transbay power cable -- a conduit to East Bay power plants scheduled to come online later this year. But Cal-ISO had raised concerns in October about the reliability of the city's ability to generate power, suggesting a potential 25-megawatt power shortage if the plant were closed.

At the time, Public Utilities Commission head Ed Harrington said that Cal-ISO's estimate was "overly cautious." As he told SF Weekly in October, that figure assumed "two major power transmission cables went down on the peak hour of the peak day and no one ever made any change in their behavior when it happened."

Now, after a discussion today between Yakout Mansour, the president and CEO of Cal-ISO, and Mayor Gavin Newsom, the regulatory body has given its final stamp of approval to the plant shut-down. As soon as the Transbay Cable is complete and running, Cal-ISO will remove the "must run" designation of the Potrero Power Plant, clearing the way for its closure.

According to the agreement between the city and Mirant, the Potrero plant cannot be used for any kind of fossil fuel generation in the future. The city has signed off to "expedite" consideration of Mirant's plans for a new use for the land the plant currently occupies, as well as the 40-year-old plant itself.

Politically, the go-ahead for the Potrero plant shutdown is good news for Herrera, a longtime campaigner against the plant and a highly touted (but undeclared) mayoral candidate. It's also a bright spot for Newsom, who could certainly use some positive press.

Regarding Newsom, "it's he and he alone that was able to have this dialogue with Cal-ISO," said Joshua Arce of the Brightline Defense Project, who lobbied Cal-ISO repeatedly to close the Potrero Plant. "This is a big win for him."

From Arce's perspective, the most important part of today's victory was that the closure of an old polluting giant was achieved without the mandate to erect a new plant to replace it.

Today's news is proof that a coalition of local politicians and community groups can prevail over Cal-ISO, Arce added.

"For years, Cal-ISO said we need this power plant, and it took community, elected officials, and environmentalists both near and far to apply the pressure required to demonstrate that the power plant is not needed."

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