money.jpgThe city sold off Monday a quartet of gas-fired portable power plants, received as settlement of a lawsuit with energy corporations for their role in the 2000-2001 blackouts but never taken out of storage in the roughly seven years owned by San Francisco.

The four combustion turbines — 54,000-horsepower models made by General Electric, called GE LM-6000s and currently stored in Houston, TX — sold at auction to Missouri energy firm Energy Parts Solutions for $44 million, according to a press released issued Tuesday. Two other companies bid on the engines. A $4 million deposit is currently in the city’s hands.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and SFPUC general manager Ed Harrington praised the sale, but are both conceivably more relieved than pleased: the sale merely prevents more cuts, and won’t help balance the city’s $522 million budget deficit projected for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The $10 million realized from the sale was budgeted last year to be spent by the end of the current fiscal year in June.

A pre-existing deal with the state — a sort of power plant prenup, we guess — caps the city’s windfall at $10 million, but San Francisco could receive more once the sale closes escrow, according to SF Public Utilities Commission spokesman Tyrone Jue. The state Department of Water Resources will decide how to spend the remaining $33 million, he said.

Various proposals to ship the fossil fuel combustion turbines to San Francisco and turn them on were floated in recent years but were ultimately abandoned when energy regulators told San Francisco could safely shut down a privately-owned gas-fired power plant in Potrero Hill by the end of this year. Supervisors had expressed a desire to keep at least two of the turbines as late as June 2009.

Jue wasn’t sure how much was spent on storage costs while the power plants were in the city’s hands.

The 2003 lawsuit, filed by then Attorney General Bill Lockyer, sought damages of upwards of $9 billion from energy companies including Enron accused of roles in bringing about the blackouts.

Then-Gov. Gray Davis’s alleged mishandling of the crisis helped usher in the Arnold Schwarzenegger era. So it’s not a total loss: while the turbines are gone, San Franciscans can look forward to 20 more months of Maria Shriver, who was never in storage.

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