Power and pollution
AES is currently drawing up plans for what the company says would be a cleaner, more efficient power plant. Those plans will be submitted for state approval later this month, but AES has already begun marketing its new plant.
In July AES sent out a fact booklet that was mailed to a select number of Redondo Beach residents. It provided renderings of the current plant contrasting to the proposed 12-acre plant, showing a new plant that would be virtually undetectable from many angles. It also said that the five current 219-foot stacks would be replaced with three stacks, each less than 140-feet tall.
On the front cover was a picture of a smiling 20-something woman riding her bike near the waterfront. Opposition group NoPowerPlant, in response to the AES mailer, created their own fact book with a picture of a young child riding her bike down the same trail wearing a gas mask.
AES’ recently released “Project Summary,” explained that the new plant will be permitted to run 76 percent of the time, but is expected to only run 25 to 42 percent of the time. Their numbers indicate that the new plant, although permitted to produce 11,475,600 MWh of electricity, will only produce 770,000 – 1,300,000 MWh per year.
Opponents of repowering, BBR and NoPowerPlant, said that although the new plant will be cleaner and more efficient, it will also run more frequently, adding more pollutants to the air. BBR, extrapolating numbers from another proposed new AES plant in Huntington Beach – plans for which were submitted to the state in July – projects particulate emissions for a new Redondo plant to increase from the 3.3 tons released on average annually from 2007 to 2011 to between 22 and 37 tons.
“AES is going to put out six to eleven times they have over the last five years because they are going to run a lot more often,” Brand said. “Yes, it will be a lot more efficient. But it’s going to run so much more that they are going to put out 37 tons of particulate emissions, per their own numbers.”
Councilman Matt Kilroy sees a flaw in that comparison. Although in the last five years the plant has run at 5 percent capacity, he said the assessment should take more years into account.
In the past five years… the plant produced approximately 452,255 MWh of electricity, the recent AES project summary said. In an Air Quality Management District (AQMD) facility overview from 1999 – 2003, the numbers were much higher. In 1999 the plant’s output was 1,331,158 MWh. In 2003, the output was only slightly lower at 1,035,691 MWh.
“I don’t think it’s fair to sit there and compare what a potentially new power plant would produce to a power plant that by everyone’s admission virtually never ran in the last years,” said Kilroy. “Why are we comparing it against something that was virtually shut down?”
Dennis Peters, a representative from California Independent System Operations (CAISO), which oversees the state’s power grid, explained at a recent city council meeting that the state is trying to strike a balance with fewer gas generated plants while continuing to maintain the reliability of power across California. He said that if all four gas-fired plants in the region that supply the capacity requirement of 10,589 MWh were retired, the region would be 3,207 MWh short of necessary power.
But Peters also noted that all four plants are in the process of modernizing. Brand pounced on the opportunity. He asked Peters if there was the capacity of retiring one “once-through” power plant and still maintaining grid reliability.
“We look at that 3,277 MW needed to be replaced and we’re not specifying where that needs to be,” said Peters. “We would agree…the best, most cost-effective location would be at existing sites.”
“Just to reiterate,” said Brand. “There is capacity to retire some of the once-through cooling capacity.”
“Yes,” Peters answered.
A stony silence filled the room.
Pendergraft maintains, however, that the state’s energy needs remain highly unpredictable. He pointed to the problems experienced this year in San Onofre, where a nuclear power plant serving 1.2 million people went offline due to serious technical difficulties.
“Our world changes fast,” Pendergraft said. “San Onofre may or may not be back in service – this is 2,300 MWh we thought would be there that may not be there. We need to react to our ever-changing world, and that is what we are trying to do.”
“I think there is a point that a lot of people are missing: what we are doing is creating an option to be able to create a plant if needed. But if it’s not, then you have 50 acres available for other uses. And the state will make those assessments….Certainly, our vision is a for a smaller, quieter power plant. But we are only going to build that plant if it is needed.”
Kilroy also said that because of the concerns at San Onofre, the CEC will more hesitant to shut down power generating stations. He also said that if the CEC ultimately decides that the AES plant is needed, there are options to offset the pollution the plant would produce.
“There’s no doubt that having a power plant in your backyard is not a preferable thing, and there’s no doubt if you remove the sources of pollution you’re better off,” said Kilroy. “But if they are allowed to re-power, how can we get AES to reduce other sources of pollution and come out with a zero gain?”
Kilroy suggested that because the City Council voted to be an intervener in the relicensing process, they could suggest different ways for AES to mitigate their local pollution impact.
“We could have them pay to have solar water heaters installed in people’s homes,” he said. “And electric cars are the future, so why not put aside money to pay for an electrical charging infrastructure… plus that’s a boon for them, because they sell electricity. “
“One of my things is regardless of what happens and we end up having a power plant, we have to make the best [of the] result and ask what we can do to mitigate all of its negative impacts.”
Continue to page 3: Up in the air