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As Chula Vista city officials look to their uncertain next step in the South Bay Power Plant saga, they have one California city’s experience to learn from.

San Francisco had an old power plant that was required to operate to guarantee the city’s energy needs were met. The 77-year-old plant was located near the Bayview-Hunters Point district, a low-income area of the city. Pacific Gas & Electric agreed to close the Hunters Point plant in 1998. But eight years passed before it was shuttered. The plant finally closed last May.

Chula Vista officials say they’re hopeful of demolishing the South Bay Power Plant by early 2010. The South Bay plant can’t be torn down until the San Diego region has enough electricity to guarantee reliability.

Similar threads are woven through both cases: Environmental justice and energy reliability.

To get the reliability label off the Hunters Point Power Plant, PG&E designed and built nine transmission projects. The company says it spent $320 million on those upgrades.

Hunters Point opponents say getting the Chula Vista City Council on board against the South Bay Power Plant was a key step.

“Without the political will, it will take you forever,” said Marie Harrison, a community organizer for Greenaction, a San Francisco-based environmental justice nonprofit.

Harrison said. “We truly had to become aggressive. No one who knew who had the real authority to shut the power plant down.”

That helped buoy opponents cause when talking to the California Independent System Operator, which oversees the state’s energy grid and is responsible for maintaining energy reliability.

Gregg Fishman, a Cal ISO spokesman, said his agency helped PG&E and San Francisco community groups to develop an action plan for getting the reliability label taken off the Hunters Point plant and another aging plant nearby. Cal ISO could play a similar role in the Chula Vista discussion, Fishman said.

Laura Hunter, spokeswoman for the National City-based Environmental Health Coalition, which is fighting to get the South Bay Power Plant torn down, has sent a letter to Cal ISO, hoping to set that process in motion.

As Chula Vista takes slow steps forward, San Francisco opponents are beginning to reap rewards of their long fight against the Hunters Point plant.

“Looking out my window,” Harrison said, “you can actually see it coming down. It brings me a lot of joy to see it coming down.”

ROB DAVIS

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