The AES Redondo Beach power plant. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan
A heated discussion at this week’s City Council meeting culminated well after midnight in a unanimous vote to sustain the city’s efforts to oppose AES’ application to re-power its Harbor Drive plant, which is currently before the California Energy Commission.
The council also instructed City Attorney Mike Webb to draft a moratorium on construction at the site – a precursor to changing its zoning and therefore putting the onus on the Commission (CEC) to prove that the Western Los Angeles area relies the Redondo Beach plant to feed its grid. The CEC does not have the authority to override local zoning unless it receives evidence that the plant is necessary.
Following hours of back-and-forth debate over whether to funnel an additional $200,000 toward the opposition effort, the council decided to postpone that financial decision to a later meeting.
“You mean we have to go through this torment again?” Mayor Steve Aspel asked, amidst tension on the dais.
Earlier this year, the council authorized city staff to spend $260,000 on costs associated with being an “intervenor” in the permitting process. Intervention enables the city to participate more directly in California Energy Commission hearings by way of presenting evidence at hearings, cross-examining witnesses, and obtaining relevant data.
Aspel opposed dedicating more public funding to the cause – “Seems like we’re trying to buy a Ferrari and we can only afford a Kia,” he joked – and argued the city has other needs that deserve resources.
“What I’m afraid of is we’ll eat up the 260 [thousand] and come back and say we need 200 more… and next thing we know we’re at a million,” he said.
Webb warned the council that if the intervenor effort falls to him and his office – the cheaper option, as outside consultants will cost considerably more – it will consume 90 percent of their time.
“That becomes my full-time job… I’m not certain you fully appreciate the impact that will have on all the other services we provide,” Webb said, noting that the potential redevelopment of the waterfront will also be a “labor-intensive” undertaking for his office. Earlier that afternoon, he’d spent five hours on the phone working out the legal nuts and bolts of the impending CenterCal project, he said.
Tuesday, the council heard testimony from Jaleh Firooz of Advanced Energy Solutions, a firm the city hired to conduct its own power flow analysis. Firooz told the council she believes, based on her study, that if the Redondo Beach plant and its associated substations are retired, the state can still maintain an adequate energy supply.
“You will only need less than 1,000 megawatts to meet the local capacity requirements identified by Cal-ISO (California Independent System Operator Corporation),” she said. “Huntington Beach and Los Alamitos are better… locations to meet the requirements.”
Furthermore, flexible generation for local electricity can originate outside the state, she said.
“This study is not my opinion at all… To me this is physics, two plus two is four,” she said in response to a question about the objectivity of her study. “I put no opinion of myself in here; this is just based on the data.”
AES Southland President Eric Pendergraft argued the study is not bulletproof.
“The conclusions drawn are significantly different than testimony and studies that have been performed by Cal-ISO and Southern California Edison,” he said. “As with all studies, they are highly depending on assumptions that are made to develop conclusions.
“As a suggestion, you may consider passing the study onto the Cal-ISO or someone else to just take a look at the assumptions that were made in order to develop the conclusions and just get a sanity check on them, but that’s up to you,” he told the council.
“We certainly believe there’s at least a likelihood a new plant’s going to be needed in Redondo Beach. We’re putting millions of dollars at risk… and we wouldn’t do that if there wasn’t a chance a new plant wouldn’t be needed.”
Scott Gobel of Southern California Edison had a similar response.
“Our environment is an ever-changing environment,” he said. “There’ll be a study this year; there’ll be a study next year.”
While the city will maintain its intervenor status, decisions about associated costs have been shelved for the time being.