CombTurbine.jpgCity to hang onto combustion turbines
Steam power could come to Jesse Street, UCSF soon

Somewhere deep in the heart (or panhandle or Gulf Coast region, we’re not quite sure) of Texas, four combustion turbines, property of the City and County of San Francisco, are sitting in a warehouse, collecting whatever it is idle jet engine-sized power plants collect.

The CTs, as they are known, were to be set up in San Francisco to counterbalance the energy produced by Mirant’s Potrero Hill power plant (which, as residents of Bayview, Dogpatch and Potrero well know, belches smoke 24/7/365), thereby allowing it to shut down.

But that plan was scuttled, and the four CTs were to be sold off to raise $10 million towards the city’s budget deficit under the original budget proposal approved last week. But supervisors moved Tuesday to keep their hands on at least one, possibly two of the CTs, in a deal that could be vital to saving the Pier 70 redevelopment project.

Pier 70’s redevelopment hinges on getting the power plant shut down first and foremost (because who wants to buy a market-rate condo next to a power plant?). Shutting down a power plant isn’t as easy as flipping a switch — there’s a regulatory agency called the California Independent System Operator, which monitors the state’s energy grid.

Cal ISO slapped a label — called RMR, or “reliability must run” — on the Mirant plant, stating that the city is 150 MW short of energy self-sufficiency in case of a crisis (the Mirant plant creates 156 MW of energy, according to Cal ISO, but is also defendant in a lawsuit filed by city attorney Dennis Herrera).

In a letter sent to the city in May, Cal ISO ruled that the city could close down the main power generator at Potrero Hill by the end of the year. Then once the Transbay Transmission Cable goes on-line, all but one of the reserve generators could be dismantled without putting the city’s energy situation at critical.

Supervisor Sophie Maxwell led the charge to change the language to allow the city to hang on to some of the CTs, according to City Hall insiders. She told the Appeal on Tuesday that San Francisco “needs the ability to close that gap.” “We can’t lose (them)” she said.

Josh Arce, an attorney whose Brightline Defense Project has advocated for environmental justice in the southeastern part of town, said the deal is a “fail-safe” that will help ensure the Mirant plant is shut down on time and that the Pier 70 redevelopment happens.

“Aaron Peskin used to say, ‘The moment we let go of our CTs, we lose the ability to build our own power plants,'” he said, noting that such leverage can be used against utility giant PG&E.

Possible sites for cogeneration projects — where the CTs would be added to existing power facilities, thereby creating MORE POWER — include power-producing sites on Jesse Street and at UCSF.

More power, but then the city would need to figure out where to offset the $2.5 million per turbine it won’t receive into the general fund.

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