Hayward power plant approved to restart following massive turbine explosion

Despite opposition, state regulators approved a plan allowing a power plant in Hayward to restart at a limited capacity following a massive steam turbine explosion and fire that remains unexplained.

The California Energy Commission voted unanimously Thursday to allow the Calpine Russell City Energy Center to generate half the power it normally does by bypassing the steam turbine and relying on two natural gas turbines to feed the grid.

The plant could be back online by mid-August without knowing what caused the blast. 

The City of Hayward has strongly opposed the restart without understanding the root cause, current safety risks, and environmental effects.

"Frankly we are astonished and appalled at this application," Mayor Barbara Halliday told the Commission. "This application puts profit and feeding the grid ahead of the safety of our residents."

The blast sent heavy chunks of hot metal catapulting up to 1,200 feet away on May 27. No one was injured.

KTVU reported this week that regulators found 14 significant safety violations two years before the explosion.

The city had no idea.

"We have lost significant trust," Hayward city manager Kelly McAdoo told commissioners. "You should start demanding answers and accountability."

Inspectors found oil leaks near the steam turbine, causing a fire hazard. And Calpine never did routine drills until recently and has yet to include the Hayward Fire Department, as the audit suggested.

A Calpine spokesperson previously said none of the violations contributed to the May blast.

The company spoke publically for the first time during the meeting.

"The safety of our neighbors, employees and members of the community are very much our highest priority," Barbara McBride with Calpine said. "We are really committed to safe operation of the facility."

Commissioners debated with Calpine over revisions to the permit, ultimately requiring enhanced scrutiny of the plant including routine safety checks, regular meetings with regulators, and allowing plant access for firefighters.

The fire department and state regulators will meet to discuss how to prevent critical incidents within the next 30 days.

Commissioners said there had to be a balance between the safety of the community and meeting California’s rising energy needs.

"What happened in your community is unacceptable. I think we’re fortunate there wasn’t a fatality," Commission Chair David Hochschild said. "We have to do better collectively. It cannot happen again."

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at brooks.jarosz@fox.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @BrooksKTVU