By JB Powell
Tomorrow could be ‘show me the money’ day for the SF Port Commission. Commissioners there will vote on the Trans Bay Cable, a privately financed, $300 million power cord that would run underwater from Pittsburg. For weeks, staff members from the port as well as various other city agencies have been hammering out the details of a community benefits package with the cable’s developer, Australian financial firm, Babcock and Brown. The Guardian has obtained a staff report with details of the proposed benefits package. Several officials had already told us it was “significant” and they were right. If the deal goes through, the port will reap millions in rent and licensing fees, a needed cash-infusion for the strapped agency. The package also includes hefty sums for waterfront open space and, in perhaps the biggest news for the city, millions of dollars for the SF Public Utilities Commission. The SFPUC plans to use the funds to bankroll sustainable energy projects, including solar, wind, and tidal initiatives.
Why the largesse? Many of the cable’s shore-side facilities would be on port land. That means Babcock and Brown needs port commission approval before the project can move on to the last local regulatory step, the Board of Supervisors. If the cable goes through, it would plug the city’s electrical grid into 400 megawatts of power from plants in and around Pittsburg. But green power advocates claim the “59 mile extension cord” would be a “waste of resources.” Their biggest fear is that bringing all those relatively cheap megawatts into the city from fossil-fuel burning plants across the bay will derail the city’s plans to rely on more eco-friendly energy.
But the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO) insists the city needs the cable or it will see blackouts in the future. Cal-ISO is the “public benefit corporation” in charge of the state’s grid. Sources in and around city hall have described the bind local leaders are in: they would rather look to greener power projects to solve the city’s energy needs, but electricity can be the third rail of California politics. Just ask Gray Davis. So, in an attempt to have their megawatts and eat them too, staff from the mayor’s office and several supervisors, as well as the port and SFPUC, pushed hard for the best “benefits package” they could get from the developer. It remains to be seen if the money for renewable energy projects will placate the activist community. Stay tuned to the Guardian for more coverage on the issue in the coming weeks.