Source: SF Chronicle
An old fossil-fuel burning power plant in Oakland’s Jack London Square area is one step closer to being replaced with cleaner energy sources.
The board of East Bay Community Energy, an Alameda County agency that buys green power for local residents, on Wednesday approved a contract with the plant’s owner for an 80-megawatt-hour battery installation that will pave the way for the closure of the plant, whose equipment is about 40 years old.
While the Martin Luther King Jr. Way plant is used only a few times annually when demand in the area is especially high, local officials have wanted to shut it down for years.
State grid managers last year approved a plan to swap the facility out with cleaner energy, including storage. The East Bay energy agency and Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which still controls the power lines in the area, subsequently sought proposals to wind down the plant.
Once the batteries are operational, they will work by drawing electricity from the grid when demand is low and then discharging it when needed.
Approval of the contract does not alone allow the plant to retire, but it will bring officials “significantly closer” to that goal, said Nick Chaset, chief executive officer of East Bay Community Energy.
With the East Bay agency contract approved, the plant’s owner, Vistra Energy, can get more approvals required to wind down the old facility, Chaset said. For example, the California Independent System Operator still needs to verify that the plant’s capacity is being adequately replaced.
The agency is also eyeing some other smaller projects as part of the broader power plant closure effort, dubbed the Oakland Clean Energy Initiative.
“This is probably the single biggest energy storage piece that needs to be put in place,” Chaset said.
The agency did not specify the cost of its 10-year storage contract with Vistra.
Vistra, based in Texas, acquired the Oakland plant in 2018 as part of its merger with the facility’s prior owner, Dynegy.
Vistra is “proud to have the opportunity to provide Oakland residents with renewable power while supporting the community’s clean energy transition,” CEO Curt Morgan said in a statement.
Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb, who also serves as vice chair of East Bay Community Energy, said the eventual retirement of the fossil fuel plant will also reap environmental and health benefits for people who live in the area.
“If we can never have to turn that plant on ever again, that’s a lot of emissions that will not be going into the nearby community,” Kalb said. “West Oakland already bears a large part of the brunt in terms of poor air quality in the East Bay.”
“It’s particularly acute in that community because you’re also at the port, so you already have a lot of diesel combustion going on,” he said. “This is sort of a magnifier, especially on really hot summer days. Taking that out will deliver some meaningful local air quality benefits.”
East Bay Community Energy said the battery storage project is expected to start operating commercially in 2022.
PG&E said it has “received multiple, competitive bids” through a request for offers it initiated as part of the Oakland Clean Energy Initiative. The company “hasn’t made any final decisions at this time,” a spokesman said in an email.