October 10, 2008

Studies to Be Conducted on Pittsburg Power Plant Proposal

By Paul Burgarino

By Paul Burgarino

The smokestacks of a rarely used power plant at Pittsburg's waterfront are visible for miles. In a few years, electricity generated there could have a similar reach.

This week, the California Energy Commission began a yearlong review of a 550-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant to replace a nonoperational portion of the existing Pittsburg site. The 26-acre project site is part of a 1,427-acre piece of land annexed into Pittsburg in May.

If approved, construction of Mirant Corp.'s $585 million Willow Pass Generating Station would begin in fall 2009, with completion about 2012. During this review, the commission will make sure the project meets California Environmental Quality Act thresholds for public health, environmental impacts and engineering. A residential neighborhood, Marina Park and St. Peter Martyr School are all within 900 feet of the plant.

Plans for the Pittsburg facility improvements, along with a separate project for a 930-megawatt plant in Antioch, came in response to a request by PG&E for proposals to increase California's electricity capacity, said Chip Little, manager of government affairs for Mirant.

The Wlliow Pass power plant would replace the four generating units closest to Suisun Bay. Those units, along with an administration building and a fuel storage tank, would be demolished, Little said. The plant already has gas and electric transmissions required for new development in place, Little said.

The new plant would burn natural gas from PG&E instead of oil and use recycled water from the Delta Diablo Sanitation District for cooling, said Ivor Benci-Woodward, project manager with the commission.

The 550 megawatts generated by the plant would be enough to power 550,000 homes during off-peak hours and 385,000 during peak usage, said Percy Della, spokesman for the California Energy Commission. The existing plant can generate about 1,300 megawatts, Little said.

The state commission is the lead agency throughout the environmental review process, performing site visits, hosting public- input meetings, and conducting hearings on the project, Della said.

With the Mirant project in its infancy and details sparse, Pittsburg is in the preliminary stages of reviewing its scope, implication and possible community impacts, City Manager Marc Grisham said. More importantly, he said, separate public workshops on the plan need to be held in Pittsburg and not "lumped together" with Antioch meetings.

According to Mirant, this new power source would increase the local electricity grid's reliability. State commission officials added that projects such as Willow Pass would reduce Bay Area dependence on imported power.

The 1950s-era plant -- which Mirant acquired from PG&E in 1999 -- was once a major contributor to the state power grid and is now used to handle emergency loads.

Paul Burgarino covers Pittsburg and Bay Point. Reach him at 925- 779-7164 or [email protected]


Information about the Willow Pass Generating Station project, the review process and how to receive updates on it is at www.energy.ca.gov/sitingcases/willowpass

Originally published by Paul Burgarino , East County Times.

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