January 20, 2017

More exemptions for Hayward power plant?

View of Russell City Energy Center from the Bay Trail. Photo by HARD general manager John Gouveia.

View of Russell City Energy Center from the Bay Trail. Photo by HARD general manager John Gouveia.

The plant was certified by the California Energy Commission (CEC) in 2007 despite major problems.

  • Hayward was and is still identified by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) as one of six ‘CARE communities’ (11 cities), out of the hundreds of cities/towns in BAAQMD’s nine-county authority, which are the most disproportionately impacted by air pollution.
  • BAAQMD concluded that Russell City would be the sixth-largest stationary source of air pollution in the Bay Area. (Somehow BAAQMD and the CEC also determined that the plant would have no impact on health.)
  • The plant is demonstrably not needed. Its certification violated the state’s energy “loading order” at the time and still does.
  • CEC aviation staff recommended rejecting Russell City due to aviation safety issues–the plume of condensing steam from its smoke stack would be a hazard for planes approaching the nearby Hayward Executive Airport, and perhaps also Oakland International Airport. (The Commission used this as a reason not to certify the Eastshore energy plant, under consideration at the same time, but not for Russell City.)
  • Significant endangered-species, environmental-justice, and aviation-safety issues were not addressed.

So now Russell City has a permit to spew over four billion pounds of CO2 into the air every year for the next 30 years. The owner/operators hope to be on-line by the end of the year.

And the operators have petitioned the CEC for a fourth amendment to the certification (see http://www.energy.ca.gov/sitingcases/russellcity_amendment/amendment_four/index.html). The CEC has granted some of their requests; others are still in progress:

  • to be released from providing any mitigation at all to the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District (HARD) (granted);
  • to change the timing (granted) and kind (in process) of landscaping mitigation;
  • to place their sulfuric acid tank less than 50 feet from combustible or flammable materials (granted);
  • for extra time to conduct “conformance tests” on the turbines (in progress).

This last request could be key. We don’t have full technical understanding, but we suspect that they may have problems meeting their already too-high emissions allowance, and we have serious concerns about any changes to the testing requirements.

HARD is fighting the amendments and is attempting to get some of the plant’s neglected issues dealt with, including:

  • visual impacts;
  • impacts on the wildlife of the HARD shoreline;
  • the lighting plan–which on the one hand is inadequate for aviation safety, but on the other hand a hazard to wildlife;
  • the routing of aircraft upwind of the power plant directly over the Hayward Shoreline, which impacts wildlife and visitors to the HARD Shoreline Interpretive Center and HARD shoreline programs.

In a poll conducted by the Interpretive Center, over 80% of respondents said they would reduce or end their usage of the Interpretive Center and other HARD shoreline programs if the power plant begins operation. Since funding is in part tied to visitor usage, plant operation could result in the closing of the most-utilized Bay interpretive center in the entire estuary.

The Hayward shoreline contains a preserve for the endangered salt-marsh harvest mouse, one of the most productive least-tern breeding colonies in the state, snowy plover, clapper rail, and many other federally and state-protected species. This shoreline is part of the San Francisco Bay South Important Bird Area (IBA–a designation by the Audubon Society for the most important avian habitats). Of the over 150 official IBAs in California, Audubon ranks SFBS among the 10 most important. Over 500,000 birds migrate through the SFBS-IBA during the spring migration alone.

Ernest Pacheco, erniepacheco@cwa9412.org or (510)677-8452

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