Don’t kill the peakers — yet

Pub date July 15, 2008
WriterTim Redmond
SectionPolitics Blog


The supervisors are meeting a day late this week, thanks to the San Francisco Examiner’s screw-up, which means that a key vote on the city-owned combustion turbines, or peakers, will probably come Wednesday, July 16. The mayor, with some environmental backing, wants the board to kill the city peakers and leave Mirant Corp, a private power company, with the responsibility of generating extra electricity in San Francisco during peak use periods. That’s the worst possible scenario.

We recognize the contradictions inherent in any city plan to construct new fossil-fuel generation plants. San Francisco ought to be moving away from any energy solution that increases carbon emissions, and if the city wants to simply ban any facilities that burn anything to generate electricity, we would by sympathetic.
But that’s not the choice here. The mayor (and Pacific Gas and Electric Company) want to continue using natural-gas-fired turbines to generate electricity in southeast San Francisco. They just want a private company, not a public agency, running the plants.

And we’ve seen no legally binding, written guarantee that Mirant will close its big, polluting Unit 3 under the deal.
There’s some dispute about whether Mirant will operate cleaner peakers than the city, but there’s no dispute about the fact that a private company will be far less accountable than a city department that will soon by run by commissioners who must be approved by the supervisors. And if the city kills the peakers, it will have no leverage at all over what Mirant might be required to do.

The supervisors need to leave their options open here and hold off on killing the public-power peaker plan until the public can see, review, and participate in hearings on binding agreements for the future of Mirant’s plant. As Potrero Hill activist Tony Kelly, who has been working on this issue for years, put it in an email to us:
“I have to emphasize that a vote in favor of the CTs tomorrow doesn’t have to lock the city into the CTs; there’s already an amendment to the ordinances giving the city an out in case another program (Mirant retrofit, or transmission only) turns out to be better. However, if tomorrow’s ordinances fail, or are tabled, then the CTs go away as an option. That’s the problem.

Because it really looks like the PUC will formally rescind the public CTs next Tuesday, in their last act of defiance and corruption; and that will kill the public CTs, and then Mirant holds all the cards to do whatever it wants to do from then on.”

Again: We’re open to a solution that involves neither the city-run peakers nor Mirant. But we’ve been around long enough to know that when the mayor, PG&E and a private power-plant owner are mucking around with energy policy, you have to be very, very careful before you trust what comes out of the discussion. We don’t trust Mirant for a second, and the supervisors shouldn’t give up the city’s leverage too early.