HAYWARD -- With a legal victory in their pocket and permits in their hands, Calpine officials are poised to begin work on the 600-megawatt gas-fired Russell City Energy Center near the Hayward shoreline.
On Thursday, the appeals board of the Environmental Protection Agency rejected claims that the project was improperly granted a federal air permit to operate. It was the last permit that Calpine needed.
"We will be moving forward very shortly," said Joe Ronan, senior vice president for government and regulatory affairs for Calpine. "(Appellants) have the right to take it up with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but that doesn't involve a stay (of construction)."
Ronan added that historically there have been four similar EPA appeals at the Ninth Circuit level and each was rejected.
The challenges to the air permit came from a number of petitioners, including the California Pilots Association, the Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, and environment-based citizen groups.
Concerns involved whether the best technology is being used to reduce emissions, the effect of hot plumes on aircraft using the Hayward Executive Airport and the frequency and effects of startups and shutdowns at the plant.
All were rejected in the Environmental Appeals Board ruling.
"We're very disappointed," said Audrey LePell of Citizens Against Pollution, one of the groups that filed an appeal. "We thought all of the five complainants
LePell, California Pilots Association and Chabot-Las Positas representatives all said they are reviewing the decision and weighing their options.
The appeals sought to revoke a federal air permit that was granted earlier this year, under which Calpine agreed to greenhouse gas emission limits that weren't required by law.
The company will donate $10 million toward the construction of a new Hayward main library, and give $1.6 million in funds and land to the East Bay Regional Park District for improvements to the Hayward Regional Shoreline.
The plant garnered considerable support from unions because of the 650 construction jobs that would be created, and Calpine boasts a statement of support from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who called the project a model for future power plants.
However, in addition to the appellants, many residents have spoken out against what they call an eyesore and a polluter in the community.
Public speakers have said it will be a jarring sight for people enjoying shoreline trails, is too close to Chabot College and other schools, and will add emissions to an area that already has a busy interstate running through it.
Calpine and natural gas proponents say Russell City will be far cleaner than coal plants, and cleaner than gas plants using old technology, making it an ideal "in between" facility until renewable resources become more viable forms of power generation.
They said new plants like Russell City allow for older, more polluting models to be removed from the grid and thus lessen the overall carbon footprint of the area.
Opponents say energy produced by Russell City will go out of the area, in particular across the Bay.
However, Ronan says that isn't true. "It's all part of the electrical grid," he said. "(Russell City) is not being built to serve the Peninsula. It will be shared by everybody in the Bay Area."
Ronan said they likely will have a formal groundbreaking in the next month or two, although some grading work already has begun at the 19-acre site along Depot Road and Enterprise Avenue. The power plant is expected to go online sometime in 2013.