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March 3, 2010 > Alameda County's dirty air about to get dirtier

Alameda County's dirty air about to get dirtier

Submitted By Audrey Lepell, President, Citizens Against Pollution

On February 4, 2010, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), the regional agency chartered with protecting air quality in the Bay Area, released a permit for Alameda County which has the worst air quality among the nine Bay Area counties. It will deteriorate further if the BAAQMD has its way. The permit granted is a "PSD" permit to "prevent significant deterioration" of the air quality. It is essentially a federal permit utilized by large stationary sources, such as power plants and refineries, to pollute the air in our communities.

The recipient of this permit is Texas-based Calpine Corporation, which has proposed the Russell City Energy Center (RCEC), a 600 megawatt, thermal, fossil-fuel power plant, at the west end of Depot Road, Hayward. The plant will include two 14-story high towers, turbines and other associated structures on an 18-acre, or slightly larger, site. It will be capable of extending a 1,000 ft. plume of vapor that could negatively affect aircraft using the nearby Hayward Executive Airport.

Touted by Calpine as a "clean" power plant with the "first of its kind" voluntary "cap" on carbon dioxide, RCEC will emit almost two million tons of CO2 annually and classify it as the sixth greatest polluter in the Bay Area. Its sister plant, The Delta Energy Center, is the top stationary, gas-fired, thermal power plant polluter in the region.

First proposed in 2001 during the controversial power crisis, which resulted in blackouts due to some power plants being taken off-line at the same time as maintenance, the RCEC has had a long and difficult history.

Approved in 2002 by the California Energy Commission (CEC), whose members are appointed by the Governor, RCEC was supposed to have a PSD but the project was delayed for five years, partly because of Calpine's bankruptcy and the original location was deemed inappropriate. If the power plant is built on Depot Road, adjacent to the nearby Salt Harvest Mouse Preserve, it will be visible from many points. The Hayward Shoreline is under the custodianship of a three-member governmental agency composed of the East Bay Regional Park District, Hayward Area Recreation and Park District and the City of Hayward.

On emerging from bankruptcy, Calpine returned to the CEC claiming it possessed an existing permit and sought to amend it by moving the plant 1,200 ft. outside the San Francisco Bay Conservation Development Commission's jurisdiction. Calpine also renegotiated its contract with the City of Hayward agreeing to contribute $10M towards a new library in exchange for the City's agreement to not to oppose the plant or its pollution.

Calpine proceeded as if it were amending an existing permit; consequently, the notice provisions which would otherwise have been applied, such as those that were applied to the defeated Eastshore 115 megawatt, fossil fuel plant, were not followed. This process led the County of Alameda, Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, the San Lorenzo Village Homes Association, the California Pilots Association and other environmental organizations to object to the CEC which precluded these public and private organizations from participation in the amendment proceedings contending they were "too late."

Overriding its own staff's recommendations to deny the RCEC, in 2007 the CEC approved Calpine's amendment to move the plant to its present location.

In January 2008, Hayward resident Rob Simpson appealed the BAAQMD'S approval of the 2007 amended PSD to the Environmental Appeals Board. The latter agreed with Alameda County Counsel's analysis that the public did not receive sufficient or proper notice of BAAQMD's proceedings. Although only one noticed comment, written by Calpine, to their proposed amended PSD permit in 2007 was received, BAAQMD's re-noticing of this most recent proceeding, starting in December 2008, generated hundreds of comments opposed to the Calpine proposal. The Air District then re-circulated its proposed approval and conducted a well-attended public meeting in 2009.

The Hayward Area Recreation and Park District and the Hayward Area Shoreline Planning Agency's Citizens Advisory Committee oppose the project. The Alameda County Health Department expressed concern over the plant's proximity to nearby neighborhoods which already suffer from high rates of respiratory and asthma problems.

During this time, the federal courts agreed with the Sierra Club that the Environmental Protection Agency was applying the wrong standard to analyze the impact of particulate matter, PM 2.5. The Bay Area was designated as violating the Clean Air Act's standards for PM 2.5 in addition to already violating the Act's standards for 8 Hour Ozone, often referred to as "non attainment." On January 2010, The San Francisco Chronicle reported Alameda County has the dirtiest air in the Bay Area for ground level ozone or smog.

After concluding RCEC never had a PSD permit issued in 2002 and dismissing commentators' challenges to BAAQMD's adoption of Calpine's air analysis, such as the Air District's failure to take into account emissions from nearby Highway I-880 within the recognized "impact area" in its 224-page response, the Air District granted Calpine's permit. Although some commentators urged BAAQMD to require RCEC to include newer equipment used at other fossil fuel power plants to better limit emissions, such as an auxiliary boiler, the Air District rejected the suggested requirement, finding it would be "too costly."

Presently, Citizens Against Pollution, a principal opponent of RCEC, is reviewing its options. In the meantime RCEC has had to return to the CEC for another amendment.

For local information, contact Citizens Against Pollution, PO Box 55340, Hayward, CA 94544 or call (510) 785-2840.

California Energy Commission Contact Information
For questions about this siting case, contact:
Mary Dyas
Project Compliance Coordinator
Siting, Transmission and Environmental Protection Division
California Energy Commission
1516 Ninth Street, MS-2000
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 651-8891

For questions about participation in siting cases, contact:
Public Adviser
California Energy Commission
1516 Ninth Street, MS-12 Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 654-4489
Toll-Free: 1-800-822-6228

For information on amendment proceedings, visit

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