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Sandbox: A solution for the future of the power plant in Redondo Beach

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By Bill Brand

aes power plant

AES Redondo's power plant could be reduced in size or possibly eliminated in the next decade. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan

Solution for Redondo power plant future

I’m the Redondo Beach city councilmember for the Harbor, Pier, power plant area on the waterfront of Redondo Beach. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity right under our noses and most don’t even realize it. How cool would it be to replace the smoke stacks and power lines that have blighted our waterfront since 1897 with new uses that will dramatically improve our quality of life?

San Francisco and Chula Vista recently retired their power plants because of community opposition and political pressure; so can we!

AES Redondo filed plans with the State of California almost a year ago to rebuild their power plant on the South Bay coastline. I say South Bay because while it may be located in Redondo Beach, what happens here will affect the entire South Bay for the next 50 years.

AES has testified that they’re going to build a new power plant – about half the capacity of their current one — and free-up a large portion of this 50-acre site for potential “other uses.” But this is no place for a new power plant of any size and here’s why:

We Don’t Need the Power

Everyone should be concerned about keeping the lights on. We all remember the blackouts 12 years ago when industry titans like Enron were gaming the power market in California by sending electricity out of the State, only to create artificial shortages that drove up prices and profits at the expense of public safety. The crisis was one of manipulation more than a capacity shortage.

But since then, 84 new facilities have been built in California for a total of 32,693 MW, or more than 50% of the total capacity in the State. And more than 7,000 MW have been retired with more retirements on the way. AES Redondo should be next.

Many people are shocked to hear that power plants are retired and decommissioned. But, it makes sense given that many new ones are being built outside of densely populated areas where the air pollution, even from natural gas-fired plants, is unhealthy for the public.

The South Bay is part of an area that is constrained by how much electricity it can import. But there is still significant excess capacity — enough that a large power plant can be retired. “There is sufficient capacity to retire a once-through cooled power plant in the LA area,” according to a senior policy analyst at the California Energy Commission.

In fact, there are numerous reports published by the California Energy Commission, the California Independent System Operator, and now two independent consultants funded by the State Coastal Conservancy that imply, or very specifically state, that power generation at the Redondo Beach AES facility is not required for grid reliability as far out as 2021, the furthest any responsible agency is willing to predict.

These studies all have growth rates, increased electrification of cars and the need to integrate renewables in their models. To quote from one report, “….a repowered Redondo Beach power plant is not a necessary element of the future electrical grid after 2018 when its current contract will expire…”

Fiscal Nightmare

Now that we know power production from this plant is not needed to maintain reliability, what about the loss of revenue to the City of Redondo Beach if AES Redondo is retired?

The reality is that this power plant, which rarely operates and mars 50 acres of our waterfront, only provided about $369,000 in revenue to the City over the last several years. This is almost a rounding error to our $100-million budget and $60-million general fund. But the negative impact it has to our local business climate in the form of reduced business revenues, lease rates, transient occupancy taxes, sales and property taxes is much greater. Because of the power plant, our own City report states, “Retail sales growth is less than one-tenth of that of other areas in Redondo Beach.”

Analysis of commercial property values adjacent to this industrial facility by another City study concludes, “This indicates a negative change of over 40% compared to the City as a whole.”

By eliminating the industrial blight, increased revenue to the City far outweigh the measly 369K lost from eliminating this eyesore.

As for the jobs AES provides to our local community, their current plant provides 50 jobs, and they stated in their testimony in November that their new plant will reduce that to 30. As a comparison, the Cheesecake Factory employs 261 and the Crowne Plaza 339.

Air Pollution Will Increase

Any new plant will operate much more often than the current plant, thus emitting far more air pollution.

In 2009, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, and even AES themselves, AES Redondo emitted 5.23 tons of particulate emissions operating at just 5.9% of capacity. A new plant, like the one currently under construction in El Segundo, operating at 60% capacity, will be permitted to emit 58.3 tons of particulate air pollutants – a tenfold increase. Being a chemical engineer myself, I found these levels alarming.

What are particulate emissions? They’re an odorless, invisible, silent type of air pollution that is hazardous to our health. According to the EPA and American Cancer Society, exposure to particulate pollution kills more than twice as many people in California than breast cancer every year.

Particulate matter, especially the smaller diameter ones, invades your lungs and even enter your bloodstream and can cause heart attacks. From the EPA regarding particulate exposure: “Short-term exposures to particles (hours or days) can aggravate lung disease, causing asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and may also increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. In people with heart disease, short-term exposures have been linked to heart attacks and arrhythmias. Long term exposure to particulate pollution can cause heart and lung problems. The young, the elderly, those with preexisting heart and lung conditions and those who work out outdoors are especially susceptible.”

Those are just the particulate emissions: other pollutants like nitrous oxides will increase by 519%, sulfur oxides by 466% and ammonia by 344% at a 60% run rate.

Time Running Out

Is it any wonder that the elected officials of San Francisco, Chula Vista and Carlsbad have all opposed new power plants in their towns? Watch this short video to see how Carlsbad is fighting an NRG plant on their coast:

What should amaze everyone is the slow and meandering pace of Redondo and Hermosa Beach City officials, and the inability to mount the needed opposition. Both cities could have passed a resolution a long time ago opposing a new power plant here. We can’t wait any longer; time is running out. It’s time for the residents to take matters into their own hands.

I did not come to this decision quickly. I first made a motion to our City Council back in August of 2010 to simply explore our zoning options and how we could phase out power generation on our coast. After all, our own staff had recommended this in a 300+ page document years ago. No one seconded my motion and that was 18 months ago.

Because the City Council of Redondo Beach will not act, the residents must! We have the power to write an initiative to phase-out industrial uses on our coast. We can phase-out these operations by giving AES an amortization period to complete their current economic interests to the end of its useful life, most likely somewhere around 2018 when their current contract expires; and craft new zoning with a mix of commercial and open space that allows for significant economic use and benefit for the landowners.

A new power plant here is not only bad for our health, it will prevent the Redondo Beach waterfront and Harbor area from reaching it’s full potential. It’s time to redefine and redesign the character of our coastline for generations to come.

To help, please visit www.nopowerplant.com and consider a financial contribution that will go toward legal fees for the initiative. Measure DD was successful because of this type of grassroots effort, and we can do it again. We really have no choice. There is no other way. Doing nothing will result in a new power plant. Only strong, public opposition will stop it.