The Hayward Planning Commission was tasked to decide this week whether Texas-based Tierra Energy's proposal to build a gas-burning power plant on Clawiter Road fits in with the city's designs for the area.
But the commissioners reached a stalemate: Three forcefully opposed the plant, three voted in its favor and one abstained.
If built, Tierra's 115-megawatt plant, called the Eastshore Energy Center, would serve the Pacific Gas & Electric power grid during times of peak demand.
But the city already has welcomed the Russell City Energy Center, a much larger, 600-megawatt power plant proposed for the same area, and some argued that one plant is enough.
"I understand the need for power. I get that," said Planning Commissioner Al Mendall, adding that he would support the Eastshore plan if it were 14 windmills instead of 14 natural gas-burning engines with 70-foot-tall smokestacks.
But in a forceful statement, Mendall said the city should reject the plant proposal on the grounds that it would not conform to Hayward's industrial zoning code and general plan. He was joined by two other commissioners Mary Lavelle and Julie McKillop and was buoyed by the support of several area residents who came to voice their opposition.
"We have done our share," Mendall said. "I'm all for Hayward doing our part, but we've done our part, so pick on somebody else.
But others, echoing Tierra's attorney, argued that because the city has already approved the Russell City Energy Center, which has been in the planning stages for several years, it would be unfair to support one and not the other.
Confusion has surrounded the plant proposal, particularly involving questions about why Hayward has become a favored site for power plant developers.
Many commissioners on Thursday expressed frustration about the process by which the plants can get approval. It is the California Energy Commission, not local authorities, that decides whether a plant can be built.
While many residents raised concerns about the nitrogen oxide, ammonia and other chemicals that would be emitted from the site, there were few detailed answers on what those impacts really would be.
"We're really not here to approve or disapprove of the plant," said Commissioner Marvin Peixoto, who voted against Mendall's motion.
Commissioner Christopher Thnay abstained, saying he did not have enough facts to make a fair decision. The plans now go to the City Council without any recommendation from planning commissioners, because they did not reach a majority decision.
Tierra says it picked the Clawiter Road location because of its proximity to a PG&E substation near Route 92, along with a natural gas supply line that courses through the area.
The company says PG&E, in a process that was overseen by the state, last year chose seven out of more than 50 power plant proposals to support. Of the seven, two were in Hayward and most of the others were in fast-growing areas of the Central Valley.
Despite protests from several west Hayward residents who live near Clawiter Road, Tierra has gained vocal support locally from leadership of the influential Hayward Chamber of Commerce.
Tierra also has hired local consultants, including Hayward attorney Robert Sakai and former San Leandro Councilman Gordon Galvan, who have met with city leaders in recent months, several commissioners disclosed Thursday.
Scott Raty, the chamber's president, said he believes the Eastshore peaker plant, which can start up within minutes, will increase the reliability of the local power supply.
In a letter sent to city officials Wednesday, California Energy Commission spokesman Lorne Prescott appeared to confirm that assessment.
"The electrical power generated by this facility would supplement the old local generating plants at Pittsburg and on the Peninsula, and therefore, would bring more reliability to the local electric grid," Prescott wrote.
Opponents, however, argued that other sites outside Hayward should also be examined. The CEC has final say on whether the power plant can be built, and it is scheduled to make that decision in November.
Matt O'Brien can be reached at (510) 293-2473 or firstname.lastname@example.org.