HAYWARD — A year after a power plant explosion sent debris flying hundreds of feet, the state has given its OK for the plant to return to full capacity starting in June.
The Russell City Energy Center has been operating at reduced capacity since last summer.
It was shut down after the May 27, 2021, explosion for about two months, but the state Energy Commission allowed it to resume limited operation last summer over the objections of residents and local officials, citing California’s need for backup power during heat waves.
From Aug. 10 to Sept. 23, the center was called upon 11 times to help meet energy demands.
When the plant goes back to full operation, it will be able to produce about 600 megawatts of electricity per hour, which can power 600,000 homes.
The state’s investigation has determined the cause of the explosion and the power plant operators have made changes to ensure that it is safe, said Chuck Finnie, Hayward public information officer.
“It strikes me that this was a very bad thing that happened, but it has resulted in some very good work and some very good plans for the future,” Hayward Mayor Barbara Halliday said at the May 24 City Council meeting, referring to the collaborate work of city officials, the California Energy Commission and Calpine, the Houston company that owns the plant, to come up procedures to ensure an explosion doesn’t occur in the future.
“I think we may have helped other cities that have power plants. We may have set an example for how … agencies should work together to fix things when they’re [broken].”
A steam turbine at the plant blew up just before midnight May 27, 2021, igniting a fire at the energy plant at 3862 Depot Road near the Hayward shoreline.
The explosion was so powerful it hurled a 15-pound metal piece through the roof of an unoccupied trailer at the city’s Housing Navigation Center at Whitesell Street and Depot Road, about 1,200 feet away. The center provides transitional shelter for homeless residents.
Another piece of metal weighing 51 pounds landed at the city’s Water Pollution Control Facility at 3700 Enterprise Ave.
Luckily, no one was injured.
“One of the things we can all agree on, is the fact that this can’t happen again,” Councilmember Aisha Wahab said at the council meeting.
City staff told the council that they feel confident with the progress that’s been made because Calpine and the state found the cause of the explosion and are taking steps to ensure the plant is running more safely.
In addition, the Hayward Fire Department and first responders will be conducting emergency drills at the plant to help them be better prepared in the event of another explosion.
In January, the California Energy Commission said the explosion was caused by too much water under pressure and high temperatures, combined with power plant operators not detecting the problem in time, according to investigators.
A joint team of investigators from the California Energy Commission, the state Public Utilities Commission and independent consultants then did another inspection of the power plant to verify the findings of the initial inspection.
Those investigators recommended 11 things the power plant operators should do to prevent future explosions. Those recommendations included an annual preventative maintenance program and synchronizing the plant’s control system clocks. Calpine is complying with the recommendations.
Calpine also offered Hayward $150,000 to help purchase a fire department hazardous response vehicle. However, such a vehicle would cost about $1 million. Hayward officials have been in talks with the power plant operators since the initial offer, and whether the city buys the vehicle will be up to the City Council.
“We acknowledge the seriousness of the event and the concern it caused in the community, and we remain deeply committed to the safety and wellbeing of the community, our employees and the facility,” Mike Del Casale, the California senior vice president of operations at Calpine, said at the April 26 California Energy Commission business meeting.
The Hayward Fire Department is working with Calpine to schedule a tour of the power plant for new fire department officers to identify hazardous material locations, review the plant’s emergency action plan and identify possible fire/explosive areas. The new agreement requires cooperation from Calpine, so Hayward City Manager Kelly McAdoo wrote in an email that she expects the company to accommodate increased access for the fire department.
“The city is pleased with the enhanced partnerships between the Russell City Energy Center and the Hayward Fire Department as it relates to training,” McAdoo wrote. “We are finalizing a more formal agreement and plan that will outline specific activities that will occur on a regular basis.”
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