Calpine abruptly drops plans for temporary power plants

By ANGELICA PENCE, Chronicle Staff Writer

Nov. 7, 2000 (The San Francisco Chronicle)—In an abrupt move, Calpine Corp. yesterday withdrew its controversial plans to build temporary power plants in San Mateo, Newark and Brisbane, a state Energy Commission official said.

Late yesterday, the San Jose company submitted a letter to the state agency withdrawing three of its four proposals for natural-gas- fired plants, according to Claudia Chandler, an assistant executive director with the commission. The letter did not include an explanation for the sudden withdrawal, and Calpine officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Chandler said she did not know if Calpine has alternate sites in mind. Plans for Calpine’s fourth plant, in Santa Clara, remain intact, Chandler said.

The action comes days after the state commission agreed to speed up the licensing process for Calpine to build plants in San Mateo, Newark, Brisbane and Santa Clara.

The commission had also begun a four-month review of a 51- megawatt power plant proposed for the San Francisco International Airport, to be owned and operated by El Paso Merchant Energy Co. That one, and Calpine’s Santa Clara site, were still on track as of last night, according to Chandler. Each would provide enough energy for some 90,000 households.

The permission was granted under a new law designed to boost energy supplies by June to avoid a repeat of last summer’s blackouts. The law allows fast-track four-month approvals of temporary plants.

To that end, the Energy Commission had until Nov. 25 to determine if the projects would remain on the fast-track approval process.

But in the letter yesterday to the Energy Commission, Douglas Buchanan, the energy company’s vice president of project development, said that Calpine “wishes to cease further development activity and withdraw its application for certification for the Martin, San Mateo and Newark substation sites.”

The single-cycle turbines used at the three-year or temporary plants are twice as polluting as a full-size natural-gas plant, emitting 5 parts per million of nitrogen-oxide particles compared with 2 parts per million at Calpine’s controversial plant planned for San Jose’s Coyote Valley.

The Energy Commission and Calpine apparently were overwhelmed with phone calls, e-mails and letters from residents living near proposed urban sites who are worried about air-and-noise pollution.

“If that’s the case, then great, wonderful” said Lori Levine, who lives less than a block from the San Mateo site. “I hope (Calpine’s) reaction is in response to the people getting together and them realizing what they were up against.”

Levine and her partner John Poultney said they were stunned to receive a notice in the mail last month telling them that the plant could be built within 1,000 feet of their home near Coyote Point park’s popular bayside bike trail, marina and a San Mateo golf course.

The San Mateo plant would have operated 12 hours a day, five days a week from June through October until 2003, when it was scheduled to be shut down, according to state documents.

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