Stephen O’Kane of AES describes his company’s vision for its Harbor Dr. plant at October’s workshop. O’Kane attended last Thursday’s workshop, also. Photo by Rachel Reeves
Many of the same people who each week populate the public gallery during City Council meetings appeared at Crowne Plaza Thursday to absorb a five-hour technical discussion about such things as air quality measurements, ambient noise, and view corridors.
Representatives of the California Energy Commission (CEC) took questions and concerns regarding the proposed reconstruction of the Harbor Drive power plant and its potential impact on pollution levels and the visual aesthetics of the area. The CEC will either permit the project, or deny its certification.
This was the second time the CEC made its way from Sacramento to Redondo Beach to discuss the project proposed by energy company AES more than a year ago. The commission’s primary purpose in visiting last week was to give those participating at the highest level of the decision-making process, called interveners, a chance to flesh out technical issues. Listed interveners are AES and the City of Redondo Beach.
“This is an opportunity for staff and the applicant to sit down together and discuss technical topics and try to resolve issues or find clarity on a technical topic being analyzed by staff,” said the CEC’s project manager, Pat Kelly.
AES has an application before the CEC to overhaul its plant, shrinking it from 50 acres to 12 and increasing its efficiency by 60 percent, according to company figures. In August, AES’ application was declared ‘data adequate,’ meaning the CEC believed it contained sufficient facts and figures to inform a final decision.
Since submitting its application last year, AES has met with opposition — from vocal pockets of the community, a ballot initiative that aimed to repurpose its property (which failed by a margin of 2 percent), and a City Council that resolved to oppose a new plant unless it is necessary to feed the area’s power demand.
Just two weeks ago, the City Council voted unanimously to enact a moratorium on construction at the site, its motivation to halt the decision-making process and force the CEC to perform its own analysis of whether power generated at the Harbor Dr. plant is necessary to sustain the regional grid.
District 3 Councilmember Pat Aust mentioned the moratorium to the CEC at Thursday’s meeting.
“It was unanimous, 5-0 for our council,” he said. “Four of five of us came to speak to you in October. One of the resounding things we believe is an independent needs analysis needs to be done by the Commission, not by another entity… Burning natural gas is better than oil, but it’s still going to have some health impact on the residents, so please do that needs analysis. Please base this on fact.”
Jon Welner, an attorney contracted by the City of Redondo Beach, voiced concerns Thursday about the new plant’s projected emissions.
“One question I’d like to tee up in a general sense now, which I’m sure we’ll be getting into more detail about in time, is with regard to various components of emissions: Do you anticipate overall emissions from the facility will be higher or lower after repowering?” he asked. “We understand that emissions per megawatt, for example, will go down but we expect that overall emissions will be increasing.”
AES expects its plant to run between 15 and 25 percent of the time, but in a more efficient manner, employing newer and cleaner technology. Currently the plan is estimated to operate at less than 5 percent of its capacity.
“We can’t answer that question with absolute certainty until such time that we proceed with the analysis… What we are being asked is what is our prediction of electrical demand a decade from now,” said Stephen O’Kane, AES Southland’s manager of sustainability and regulatory compliance.
Joseph Hughes, air resources engineer at the CEC, added that the commission uses worst-case scenarios as the basis for forecasting impact. This means that the CEC will evaluate projected levels of pollution using the maximum operational capacity AES has identified in its application. The maximum number of hours that plant could operate, if permitted, is 6,370, including 624 start-ups and shutdowns.
“Whether or not the application would operate in that same manner, we do not know, but it could not exceed that,” Hughes said. “It could only operate less than or equal to that.”
As with any discussion of the Redondo Beach power plant, public opinion was divided.
Opponents believe emissions will increase.
Councilman Bill Brand pointed out that AES is applying to operate at 73 percent capacity, but today is operating at just over two percent capacity.
“I’m very concerned about this new power plant because even though it’s more efficient, it will be operating at a much higher capacity and that result is going to be increased pollution particularly particulate emissions, which I’m very concerned about,” said Bill Busch.
Others argued that the power plant will necessarily feed the electrical appetite of an ever-growing suburbia .
Jared Christensen, an apprentice to an electrician and member of IBEW Local 11, said he believes the plant will be necessary to supply the South Bay’s electrical needs.
“If we don’t need electricity around here now, we’re definitely going to need it down the road,” he said. “There’s no denying that the [area] is constantly growing, constantly developing.”
Pipefitter Mike Withers agreed that it will be a necessary, even profitable, investment.
“Natural gas is our best alternative now, unless we would like to go back to the lanterns that you hang up… I don’t think we can power computers by that.”
Tony Czuleger expressed a similar concern about the practicality of retiring the plant.
“The infrastructure’s not here to bring [power] in from out of the area, and if you put in new transmission lines… it would require acquiring property.”
Bob Hoffman suggested that the power plant’s impact is minimal relative to other sources of pollution in L.A.
“I question how much incremental impact this plant has compared to… the harbor and general lifestyle here in L.A… It’s really a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) issue. The people of Redondo Beach have had this power plant for 100 years and they want it to go away,” he said.
Andrew Ackerman, a 54-year resident of Redondo Beach, argued that a new plant will create revenue for the city; Jonathan Nook argued that repurposing the property would be a much more profitable investment.
“If I owned 52 acres of land at the beach, the last thing I’d be building is a power plant,” Nook said. “I don’t know if AES would sell it or lease it to somebody, but you’d think you could make a lot more money in an area like this.”
Dawn Esser raised concerns about the potential increase in particulate matter pollution, which she said will be “extremely dangerous” for local residents. Delia Vechi implored the commission staff to “give a break to us, the humans that populate Redondo and the adjacent communities.”
“The future of our city is in the hands of you, members of the CEC,” Vechi said. “Do not allow a power plant in Redondo Beach.”
There were those who expressed suspicion over AES’ past engagement with the Redondo Beach community.
“They have a long history of snowing our community here by paying millions of dollars to vote down things that would cost them money, things that would make them pay taxes like every other company in the South Bay, things that they’ve done to manipulate the power market in 2000 – a long line of things that AES has done to confuse the South Bay residents,” said Roger Light said. “It’s really clear, no one I spoke to in the Redondo Beach area wants a power plant if the power’s not needed. No one.”
“AES has spent more than a million [dollars] interfering with our democratic process despite the fact that they are not voters,” added Rob Gaddis. “This is a very, very bad neighbor we have here and I, for one, speaking for a lot of people, will be very glad to be rid of them.”
Bob Freeman, who identified as “the luckiest guy in the world” because he is a fourth-generation resident of Redondo Beach, asked for the city’s “heritage” to be restored via the retirement of the power plant.
“If we work together we can bring back the beautiful coastline,” he said.