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Morgan Hill
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December 2, 2021

Still No Air Monitors at Metcalf Plant

Air quality monitoring stations for the Metcalf Energy Center
are still being discussed, more than two years after the power
plant located north of Morgan Hill opened for business.
Morgan Hill – Air quality monitoring stations for the Metcalf Energy Center are still being discussed, more than two years after the power plant located north of Morgan Hill opened for business.

The Metcalf Energy Center, which began operation in June 2005, is a 600-megawatt power plant fueled by natural gas. It uses combined-cycle technology that is 40 percent more efficient than older power plants.

One megawatt can power 750 homes, but the power plant also generates carbon monoxide, particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen, which is why the air quality monitoring stations are needed.

Breathing in the substances generated by the plant poses a health hazard, particularly those with breathing problems, such as asthma.

Our region – Coyote Valley, Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy – has the poorest air quality in the Bay Area due to our inland, valley location that traps pollutants and worsens with our hotter summer temperatures.

In 2006, ground-level summer ozone pollution exceeded the national eight-hour standard two times in Gilroy and five times in San Martin, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District records.

According to Joe Horwedel, San Jose’s director of planning, building and code enforcement, the city has an agreement with Calpine, owner of the Metcalf plant, that the two entities would work together to install two air quality monitoring systems on the south and north ends of the plant, which is located on Monterey Road near the intersection of Blanchard Road.

Air monitoring systems need to be located away from vehicle exhaust, railroad tracks and dust from agriculture to provide accurate readings. The air district, which consulted with San Jose, found that there are no appropriate locations downwind from the plant, Horwedel said.

“At this point, for the downwind (south) location, this is something that may have to come back to the (San Jose) City Council to see if the agreement should be amended,” he said. “An option to consider is to take the funds that would have been used for monitoring equipment to have consultants help review the emissions coming out of the stack to see that it fits what was represented to the community. That was the rationale for having the monitoring stations in the first place.”

Calpine officials did not return calls requesting comment.

Discussions are underway between San Jose and the Morgan Hill Unified School District about the upwind or northerly station, according to Horwedel and district officials.

Deputy Superintendent Bonnie Tognazzini said the school district is discussing with San Jose the possibility of locating the upwind northerly monitoring station on property near Martin Murphy Middle School, 141 Avenida Espana.

When the city initially considered the Martin Murphy property, the district responded that there is also city property there, a park between Martin Murphy and Los Paseos Elementary, Tognazzini said. The district did not want the liability associated with locating the station on school property. There were concerns that students might have access to it.

Another possibility, Tognazzini added, is for San Jose to purchase a small portion, approximately 48 feet, of the district’s property at the Avenida Espana location, or negotiate a property trade. San Jose, and not Calpine, is responsible for installing the station because of the agreement between the two entities.

In May, Morgan Hill Mayor Steve Tate and State Assembly members John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, and Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, wrote letters to San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed urging downwind air monitoring. Reed responded that the air quality district was unable to locate a viable monitoring site downwind.

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