The November Wild Card

Upcoming ballot proposals on public power could complicate the fight over the Potrero Hill plant.

It's hard to predict what bearing any or all of the three public power proposals on November's ballot might have on the Potrero plant. The proposals would in various ways allow San Francisco to take control of the city's power plants, but Mirant Co., the Potrero plant's owner, doesn't seem overly concerned.

"Philosophically, we're not opposed to the [municipal utilities district]," says Mirant spokesman Patrick Dorinson. "There are places around the country where we provide power to [MUDs]. The question is, is it going to be a public-private cooperative, or is it going to be them declaring eminent domain and seizing the plant."

If the district were to seize Mirant's plants, Dorinson reminds, it would have to pay for all seven units -- and the proposed Unit 7 would cost more than $300 million all by itself. "We're proceeding with the expansion," he says.

Even if, in the most extreme scenario, a municipal utilities district did seize all of Mirant's generating plants in San Francisco, it almost certainly would need to build some new generation within the city's limits to conform with the state grid operator's standards for reliable electricity. That would be especially problematic if the city still plans to close the wheezing power plant in Hunters Point.

That closure also depends on the grid operator's approval. The plant's current owner, PG&E, wrote the California Energy Commission on March 9 to reiterate its desire to close the facility as soon as possible. But the plant is still running, and the grid operator has yet to specify what is required for its shutdown. At a minimum, the requirements will include new generating capacity built within the city limits and, likely, at least one new transmission line into the city.

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