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[whitespace] Goliath vs. Goliath

What's being said in the Calpine/Cisco debate

By Will Harper

HERE' S A LIST OF A FEW THINGS Cisco and others say about the Calpine Corp. and Bechtel' s proposed 600-megawatt plant (able to power 600,000 homes), dubbed the Metcalf Energy Center, and why it shouldn't be built.

Location, Location, Location

What Critics Say: Cisco argues that the proposed power plant doesn't conform to the city's long-designated campus-industrial zoning for the area. This is true. Calpine and Bechtel are asking for a general plan amendment--in effect, an official exception to the city's longstanding land-use rule--so they can build. Nearby residents in the Santa Teresa neighborhood, worried about declining property values and health risks, also say the plant is too close to a residential area. Cisco adds that nearly all energy projects in the licensing pipeline or under construction are either in nonurban areas or at previous power sites.

What Calpine/Bechtel Say: They concede that the power plant doesn't fit into the city's general plan for Coyote Valley. But they say the need for local energy sources is so great, as evidenced by the June 14 blackouts and ensuing brownouts, Metcalf deserves an exception. The energy firms also dispute whether the plant will pose any threat to health or property values.

Dude, It Just Looks Wrong

What Critics Say: Cisco is the primary complainant here. The computer company worries about its employees being subjected to the sight of exhaust stacks and, well, an ugly power plant. It's a matter of aesthetics, really.

What Calpine/Bechtel Say: They have tweaked the design so the plant will be disguised as an office building, complete with faux tinted windows. As for the plume from the exhaust stacks--a visual giveaway that you have a power plant moving in next door--Calpine/Bechtel promise to invest millions of dollars to ensure "under no circumstances will there be a visible water vapor plume from the exhaust stacks."

There's a Better Way

What Critics Say: The proposed power plant doesn't use the newest technology to ensure the most environmentally and lung friendly operation. Cisco-hired energy experts suggest Metcalf should use so-called SCONOx equipment to better reduce carbon monoxide emissions without using ammonia. The Environmental Protection Agency even scolded the Metcalf partners for initially dismissing the use of SCONOx too readily.

What Calpine/Bechtel Say: SCONOx is not a panacea. It's not a proven technology for such a big power plant as the proposed 600-megawatt Metcalf Energy Center. Nonetheless, in response to community criticism over the plant's projected ammonia and nitrogen oxide emissions, Calpine and Bechtel have offered to install a better pollution-control unit to reduce emissions. That has caused skeptics to wonder: Why didn't they do that in the first place?

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From the September 7-13, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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