by Jim Light and Bill Brand
Measure A gives Redondo voters a once in a lifetime opportunity to permanently rid our waterfront of the AES power plant and its economic, environmental and health impacts. But AES wants to build a new power plant; and they are not going down without a fight.
Measure A stems from a new California environmental law severely restricting ocean water cooled power plants. AES Redondo’s compliance date is December 31, 2020. In April 2011, AES submitted their intent to comply by building a new Redondo power plant.
As residents awakened to AES’ plan, increasing numbers pleaded for the Redondo City Council to oppose the new power plant. But the Council repeatedly created excuses to kick the can down the road. Finally, after a year of Council inaction and nearing the deadline for AES’ formal application with the California Energy Commission (CEC), residents pitched in their time and money to take matters into their own hands with the only tool available to them: a ballot initiative that phases out power generation zoning. Building a Better Redondo worked with land use attorneys and held numerous public meetings for over eight months to craft Measure A’s zoning. Measure A includes input from residents, businessmen, bicyclists, boaters, commissioners, councilmen, the State Coastal Conservancy and California Coastal Commission staff.
While AES was invited, they chose not to participate. Measure A zoning replaces the power plant with up to 20 acres of commercial zoning and reserves the remainder of the 50 acre property for public recreation and open space. No residential development is allowed.
A group of Redondo moms formed NoPowerPlant.com and led the signature gathering that quickly qualified the initiative for the March 5 ballot. Within 40 days volunteers gathered nearly 7,500 signatures of Redondo voters, far exceeding the 6,000 signatures required to qualify for the ballot. Last November, the Council voted to put Measure A on the ballot.
Also in November, AES submitted their application to the CEC, offering no alternative to building a new plant in Redondo Beach. With current zoning in place, only if Measure A passes will the CEC have to demonstrate that power is critical from this specific site. If Measure A fails, the CEC will be able to approve a new plant in Redondo without assessing the need for the plant.
Since 2005, the Redondo power plant has only run at about 5 percent of its capacity. Even last year with San Onofre offline and flex alerts driven by summer heatwaves, the AES plant only ran at about 6 percent of capacity through September. A growing number of future looking studies, analyses and decisions by state power agencies demonstrate that the Redondo plant can be retired without impacting our power reliability.
Despite its low run rate, the Redondo plant has dramatic impacts on the local economy and environment. No other power plant on the California coast is so tightly surrounded on all sides by residential, commercial and recreational development. This is no place for a new power plant.
A 2003 City study deems the Redondo plant “the major blighting influence” in the harbor area. This study demonstrates that the plant impacts property values and depresses harbor area business revenues. One need look no further than the dirt farm and mini-storage properties just two blocks from the beach to see the negative economic impacts of the power plant. Revenues from AES make up less than 1 percnt of the City’s revenues, and the depressed property values and business revenues decreases City revenues. As far as employment goes, the current plant employs about 50 people. The new plant would reduce employment to about 20 people.
Environmentally, the AES power plant is the largest single polluter in the City. Data from AES’ application shows that particulate pollution will increase 5x to 15x because AES intends to run the new plant more. Each year, particulate pollution kills twice as many Californians as breast cancer. It is particularly bad for children, seniors, outdoor athletes, and those with heart and lung conditions. AES’ filing shows our air does not meet State and Federal standards for particulate pollution, and the new plant exacerbates the situation.
Since the power is not critical, why put Redondo’s $150 million-plus harbor revitalization and its residents’ health at risk?
AES is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to coerce residents to vote against Measure A. AES is funding multiple mailers, billboards, TV ads, lawn signs, and even paying local residents as part of their campaign. The AES campaign boils down to several basic themes: Measure A zoning will hurt the city financially; and, Measure A could result in the current plant staying.
AES cannot keep running the current plant. The current plant is at the end of its useful life and it would require significant investment to meet new environmental requirements and be competitive with the three new power plants coming online this year. The threat of continuing to run the current plant is hollow.
Likewise, AES could not just abandon the plant. Measure A requires the new plant to be torn down and the property remediated by 2023. Beyond Measure A, Federal and State laws prohibit AES from walking away from this documented contamination site. It is also not in AES stockholders’ best interest to walk away from this valuable waterfront property.
AES’ fiscal arguments revolve around lawsuit threats and the cost of the park element of Measure A.
Measure A is on firm legal ground. It follows a 2004 city staff recommendation. Measure A’s commercial component gives AES substantial residual value for their land. The Supreme Court has upheld the right of cities to change zoning to protect and enhance the health and welfare of the community. No company has the right to pollute and blight its community. Redondo rezoned thousands of properties in 1992, changing industrial and commercial property to residential and downzoning multifamily property. This action was legal and, so is Measure A.
Because Measure A is just a zoning change, it does not obligate AES to sell its property nor does it obligate the City to buy their property. Ironically, if the State denies their application, the commercial component dramatically increases the value of their land over the industrial and park zoning it has now. Plus, 20 acres of new commercial development will provide millions in new revenue directly to the City.
Change is coming to Redondo’s waterfront. “Doing nothing” is no longer an option.
“No” on A is a vote for 50 more years of a polluting power plant with three new smoke stacks.
“Yes” on A is a vote for a truly revitalized waterfront with cleaner air, much needed recreational open space and new revenue for the City
Do not bow to AES’ overwhelming campaign expenditures.
Measure A finally puts the residents in the driver’s seat on planning for our future. See past the fear mongering and vote for a waterfront that our future generations deserve.
Jim Light is a an aerospace engineer and chairman of Building a Better Redondo. He is a candidate for the Redondo Beach District 1 city council seat in the March 5 election. Bill Brand is the incumbent candidate for the Redondo Beach District 2 seat.