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The future of San Francisco's energy production was thrown into doubt Tuesday when the Board of Supervisors adamantly refused to give Mayor Gavin Newsom the authority to negotiate and execute a plan to retrofit a polluting power plant on Potrero Hill.
Newsom hopes to retrofit the 40-year-old Mirant Potrero Power Plant from a diesel-fueled polluter into a cleaner plant powered by natural gas, but several supervisors insist that the plant be closed, torn down and replaced by a new, cleaner, city-owned facility.
On Tuesday, the board made its point clear by bringing back the measure, which it had tabled several weeks ago, to kill it more resolutely. The supervisors could have left it tabled to die.
Now it's not clear where city officials will go from here: The existing plant must remain open until an alternative of some sort is built, because the city is required to be able to produce enough energy to handle emergencies or shutdowns of plants elsewhere.
Meanwhile, neighbors of the plant - owned by Mirant Corp. - have worked for years to shutter the facility, which is blamed for numerous health problems in the area.
Several supervisors argued Tuesday that there was no reason to bring the measure back to the floor, but Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, whose district includes the plant, said she wanted to send a strong statement and preserve the board's role in any future decisions.
"The issue is that this resolution takes away the board's ability to comment any further on the retrofit," she said. "The board's input is extremely important, especially to my constituents - people expect me not to sign that away."
Until recently, the mayor and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the plant, supported the plan to replace the Mirant plant with a newer facility. But they changed their minds this summer, saying it didn't make sense to build a new fossil-fuel burning facility when renewable energy sources are gaining ground.
Maxwell and other supervisors balked at the change, pointing out that they have been working with city officials and the community for years on a plan to close the plant. They also question whether the retrofit will actually lead to acceptable emission reductions.
Meanwhile, several supervisors who are generally allies of the mayor questioned why the board brought the measure back at all. Supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Michela Alioto-Pier said they would have rather left it tabled. They voted against the resolution, however.
Newsom's office struck a conciliatory tone after the vote Tuesday.
Spokesman Nathan Ballard said the mayor remains opposed to replacing the existing plant with other, polluting plants.
"However, he does want to work closely with Supervisor Sophie Maxwell and the Board of Supervisors to find the best solution to this problem," he said.