PG&E’s latest lies

Pub date August 14, 2007
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which has made a lucrative practice over the years of co-opting environmentalists, is launching one of its boldest and most disgraceful initiatives yet — a campaign seeking to convince the Potrero Hill and Bayview–Hunters Point communities to oppose the city’s new peaker power plants by arguing that they’ll add pollution to the air.

Remember: This is the company that for many years ran the single worst source of air pollution in the region, a foul power plant that was finally shut down a few years back after a long and bitter battle. This is the same company that operates a nuclear power plant on an earthquake fault. The same company that polluted the wells in Hinkley, as depicted in the movie Erin Brockovich. This is a company that’s been lying to communities like Bayview–Hunters Point and Potrero for decades. Nobody should trust PG&E today.

We explained the background last week (see "Peaker Plants and SF’s Energy Future," 8/8/07), but the summary is this: San Francisco wants to install three small-scale power plants at the foot of Potrero Hill. The city’s argument: unless the peakers, which would provide backup power at peak demand times, are in place, the state’s regulators won’t allow the shutdown of the dirty Mirant power plant in the same neighborhood.

Some environmentalists, including San Francisco Public Utilities Commission member Adam Werbach, say San Francisco doesn’t need the peakers or the Mirant plant, but the powerful Independent System Operator, which controls the state’s power grid, disagrees.

That means Mirant will continue to spew poison unless the peakers operate — and PG&E is trying to stir up opposition with the threat that the neighborhood will wind up with both the peakers and Mirant. PG&E, of course, won’t own the peakers; they’ll be run by a company called J-Power USA for 10 years, at which point (if they’re still even needed) they’ll revert to the city. So the private utility is trying to stop the new plants to avoid future competition.

It’s a cynical ploy, but it might be effective — and there’s an easy way the city can stop it. The supervisors, the mayor, and the city attorney should simply announce that the contract with J-Power will state that the peakers can’t operate, even for a second, until the Mirant plant is shut down for good. It’s a simple, clean solution; what is everyone waiting for? *

PS As Amanda Witherell reports in this issue, the public San Joaquin Valley Power Authority has taken legal action against PG&E, charging that the company is vioutf8g state law by interfering with the creation of a Community Choice Aggregation program. There’s some solid evidence that PG&E is doing the same thing in San Francisco, and City Attorney Dennis Herrera should immediately open an investigation into whether this city should file its own complaint against PG&E.