After a year of highly-charged public meetings, threats of lawsuits, and vigorously argued campaigns for and against the AES power plant, Redondo Beach residents are finally poised to vote on the embattled plant’s future on the city’s waterfront. Measure A, slated for the March 5 ballot, represents a potential turning point in local history.
A long-running debate over the plant’s Redondo Beach presence heated up in November when AES Southland filed an application with the California Energy Commission (CEC) for approval to re-power its aging plant.
Revised state regulations gave AES a choice: It could update the Harbor Drive plant to operate without using seawater for cooling, or discontinue the entire facility. Opting to go the former route, on Nov. 20 the company submitted its proposal to the CEC. The plan shrinks the size of the power plant from 50 acres to 12.
While the CEC will have the final say, the City of Redondo Beach has elected to participate in the decision-making process as an intervener, meaning it can engage at the highest level in CEC meetings from Jan. 9.
Dan Buck stands before the city council to discuss the health impacts of the power plant. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan
In the meantime, passionate locals have been engaged in some intervention of their own. Activists on both sides of the fence have used virtually every means available – Facebook, Twitter, Internet videos, door knocking, print media, public meetings – to publicize their respective causes.
Two citizen-led groups, NoPowerPlant.com and Building a Better Redondo (BBR), spearheaded by activist Jim Light and Councilman Bill Brand, have been especially vocal in support of discontinuing the plant. The groups claim that it is a health hazard and an eyesore and contend that even though the new plant will be more efficient, it will be operating more often and so will emit greater amounts of pollution. Presently the plant operates at just five percent of its capacity, but Brand is concerned that an overhaul will mean the facility becomes more functional.
“AES is going to put out six to eleven times what they have over the last five years because they are going to run a lot more often. 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,” he has said.
Both BBR and NoPowerPlant.com want to phase out the plant and replace it with parks, open spaces, commercial offices, museums, and art galleries.
The rest of the City Council believes that by forcing AES to retire its plant, the city will wind up in the middle of a legal disaster that could potentially cost hundreds of millions of dollars. They expect that AES will respond to the rezoning of its property with a lawsuit, the bill for which taxpayers are likely to end up footing.
“Without a doubt, they will sue,” Councilman Steve Aspel said in August. “Our legacy could be a lawsuit and the loss of millions of dollars, rather than the legacy of a park. AES is under no obligation to tear down the power plant.”
The battle came to a head in September. After weeks of campaigning, those in opposition to repowering had successfully gathered over 7,000 signatures in support of a petition aimed at putting the issue before Redondo voters. BBR and NoPowerPlant.com each threatened legal action if the City didn’t include the power plant issue on the March 5 ballot; AES warned of possible litigation if it did. Ultimately, though, AES withdrew its threat, agreeing to democratize the argument at the ballot box.
The upshot, Measure A, will ask voters on March 5 to rezone the AES property, outlawing power generation and converting 60-70 percent of the site into parks and open spaces and the rest into “commercial, institutional or marine-related light industrial/boatyard uses”.
Anti-repowering activists are hoping voters will repudiate the power plant at the polls, which they believe will send a strong message to the CEC and hasten AES’ exit from Redondo Beach.
Whether or not voters approve rezoning, the CEC will have the last word. It’s now a waiting game.