San Francisco’s last significant fossil fuel electricity generating station, the Potrero Power Plant, was shuttered in 2010. More than five years later, developers are looking at the facility’s footprint with visions of what could be constructed in its place.
The power plant site, which covers roughly 21 acres, is located in Pier 70, at 1201 Illinois Street. The facility was originally developed in the 1900’s. Before hosting a generating station the plot was used for wooden barrel making, sugar refining, foundries, even shipbuilding and repair. These industrial activities were followed by the development of San Francisco Gas Light, a provider of gas for cooking and lighting.
A generator was constructed at the site in 1965 by Pacific Gas and Electric Company. PG&E sold the facility to Southern Company in 1996, which changed its name to Mirant and then to GenOn Energy, Inc. Portions of the site were retained by PG&E, including the General Construction and Switch yards, which the utility plans to continue to use for industrial activities.
Serious efforts to close the plant, one of the dirtiest in the state, emerged in the early-2000s, led by the Potrero Power Plant Citizens Task Force and San Francisco Community Power. Advocates blamed plant pollution for contributing to higher rates of respiratory and other health problems in Potrero Hill and adjacent Bayview-Hunters Point.
The facility also emitted chemical contamination and thermal pollution into the Bay. Thermal pollution alters water temperatures, which decreases dissolved oxygen levels. With less oxygen around the plant’s outfall, aquatic animals began to disappear.
The site had been heavily contaminated by manufactured gas plant residues, including coal tar – a black sludge that’s chemically similar to roofing tar – and lampblack, which is similar to candle soot. These residues contain a stew of substances, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). PAHs found in coal tar and lampblack are chemically similar to materials created by other burning activities, like cigarette smoke and fossil fuels. VOC’s can be found in moth repellants, disinfectants, and nail polish.
PG&E has made significant progress cleaning up the site by dividing it into seven work areas and conducting environmental impact studies in each section. Remediation efforts are in various stages of completion.
Mission Bay Development Group (MBDG) is working with GenOn Energy to redevelop the site, under the guidance of Seth Hamalian, the group’s director of the development. When the site was transferred from PG&E to Mirant a deed of restriction mandated that residential and open space uses wouldn’t be allowed. With the deed now removed by PG&E, residential units are under active consideration, with plans to rezone the site from industrial-only into mixed use. Designs for layout, space usage, and transportation are currently being investigated by Hamalian.
According to Hamalian, mixes of uses, including residential and retail, would create a neighborhood feel. The developer is working with community groups – including the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, Potrero Boosters, and Mission Bay Citizen Advisory Committee – to obtain feedback on the site’s potential future. A development plan is expected to be published this spring.
According to the San Francisco Business Times, site construction will take more than a decade, with the first buildings expected to be completed by 2019.