Valley Power

Cisco clashes with Calpine

Cisco Systems isnt winning many friends on Capitol Hill — or in Silicon Valley — as Californias energy crisis continues.

The networking giant was chastised for its ongoing opposition to a proposed power plant in San Jose last week, at the beginning of a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Californias energy woes. The chairman of the committee, Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the "inconsistency" and "irony of an electricity-dependent company fighting" against a power plant, was obvious. Cisco has a "not-in-my-backyard mentality," he said.

Murkowskis comments are the latest salvo in what may be the most curious skirmish of Californias ongoing energy crisis.

Cisco is fighting to stop Calpine from building a 600-megawatt power plant in the Coyote Valley, one of the last large, undeveloped tracts in the region. Cisco has its own plans for the Coyote Valley. It wants to build its world headquarters — a $1.3 billion project called the Coyote Valley Research Park, with 6.6 million square feet of office space and some 20,000 employees — on a 688-acre tract about a half mile from the proposed plant.

Cisco is "as interested in a sufficient power supply as anyone," spokesman Steve Langdon said. "What we need, however, is a responsible solution — one that is environmentally sound, respects the community and meets the immediate need. This plant is not that solution."

Cisco is the only tech company in Silicon Valley publicly opposed to the power plant. Cisco insists the plant will be too close to neighborhoods and will further degrade the regions air quality. The San Jose City Council agrees. In November, it voted unanimously against changing the zoning on the 20 acres where Calpine wants to build its gas-fired plant.

Theres no question that San Jose needs the power. According to the California Independent System Operator, San Jose uses about 2,500 megawatts of power per day, but produces only 165 megawatts.

Last year, an energy task force of the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group voted overwhelmingly to endorse the proposed power plant. But the powerful trade association as a whole never officially backed Calpines project and members of the task force allege that Cisco used its clout to derail an endorsement.

"It was our intention that our finding would be endorsed by the whole group," said task force member Earl Bouse, the vice president of manufacturing services at Hanson Permanente Cement. But the politics of the plant "got caught up between [Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group CEO] Carl Guardino and Cisco and the mayor of San Jose," and that helped prevent the group from taking a formal position, Bouse said. Langdon dismisses the charge, saying, "Its naïve to believe that we could control such an influential group of companies."

The Calpine plant still faces major hurdles. Although the state could overrule the zoning decision, it may not be able to force San Jose to extend water lines to the power plant site.