Solar = 'Peaker' Power, without the EJ Issues

BY LAURA TAM, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT POLICY DIRECTOR
September 28, 2009

This summer, somewhere in California, the state Energy Commission denied an application for a new urban natural gas-burning power plant, citing that urban solar (PV) might be a better alternative.  The CEC said that new "peakers" were not obviously the most cost-effective or environmentally preferable option to close that city's energy reliability gap.  For years, SPUR and a loose coalition of environmental advocates, led by the Brightline Defense Project, have suggested that our own City consider more environmentally-friendly alternatives to closing the Potrero Power Plant than siting new gas-fired peakers. Although we are on the brink of success here, the CEC's decision sets a precedent that other cities will be required to analyze rooftop PV as a feasible alternative to new gas-fired generation.  Read Brightline's brief legal analysis of the decision here.

A little backstory illustrates why this is so important. In the wake of the 2001 energy crisis, to help bolster the state's grid reliability, many cities built new natural gas-burning 'peaker' power plants that could be fired up to meet local energy needs on days of unusually high demand.  More often than not, low income communities, or communities of color, were the recipient locations for these peakers - increasing emissions in places that were many times already shouldering disproportionate environmental burdens.   The new CEC decision means that this could be reversed, and in a way that brings green jobs and environmental justice along with a more sustainable energy supply.  Let San Francisco (er, Chula Vista), lead the way!