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Clearing the air: AES, pollution, and Redondo Beach

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The AES Redondo Beach power plant. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan

The AES Redondo Beach power plant. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan

Second in a series

Paul Moses has lived by the AES Redondo Beach power plant for more than 15 years. He can see the plant’s emission stacks from his South Redondo Beach home. He ardently hopes to one day open his shades, breathe in fresh air and see the beach instead of an industrial giant.

“It is a constant degradation to our quality of life,” Moses said. “Many people who live in South Redondo or Hermosa say they live by the beach. I say I live by the power plant. It’s an industrial wasteland. But I see an opportunity to change that.”

A window of opportunity for change has recently been opened. New state regulations requiring the state-wide decommissioning of “once-through” central cooling systems – which utilize ocean water and thus impact marine life – has prompted AES to reapply with the California Energy Commission (CEC) to repower its Redondo plant with an alternative cooling system.

AES’ current plan is to downsize the plant to 12 acres, leaving 38 acres open to remediate and re-shape the land for alternative non-industrial uses.

But many residents want more than a mere downsizing of the plant. Two grassroots community movements, Building a Better Redondo (BBR) and NoPowerPlant seek to remove the plant entirely. They say the region doesn’t need a new power plant, especially in one of the most densely populated areas in California.

Central to the debate over the fate of the power plant has been the question of pollution.

Councilman Bill Brand, who has been the most vocal opponent of AES’s repowering, says that the argument against a new plant is quite simple: the state agency in charge of the power grid has acknowledged that the AES Redondo plant may no longer be necessary, he says, and a new plant would actually operate more frequently and thus pollute more than the existing plant.

“The state agency testified to us that they do not need a new power plant for their grid reliability,” Brand said. “So the idea that we need the power – that is solved. And a new plant dramatically increases pollution in our community. Study after study shows that particulate emissions are a dangerous health hazard to people living around a large source, which is what the AES power plant is – a large, stationary source of particulate emissions, which do harm in particular to children and the elderly.”

AES officials argue that pollution issues have been overstated by opponents of a new power plant, noting vehicles account for the vast majority of particulate emissions.

“There’s been an operating power plant for over a hundred years, and Redondo Beach currently enjoys some of the best air quality in Southern California,” said AES Southland president Eric Pendergraft. “With a new and more efficient plant, the community will continue to enjoy some of the best air quality in Southern California.”

For Moses, it’s not just about seaside blight or pollution; it’s about his quality of life. About 12 times a year he is woken up in the middle of the night to the sound of the power plant when it releases steam.

“It sounds like a rocket taking off, and it starts and stops over and over again, always on a night when I have to be up early,” said Moses. “It’s also the light pollution; it’s the only thing you see at night.”

Another thing Moses has noticed is black soot that covers his third story porch. He can’t be sure whether it is from the power plant or from car emissions, but he knows if the power plant were to be removed, many of the day-to-day annoyances associated with it would be gone.

“Living next to it is no better reminder of why I want to get rid of it,” said Moses. “I’m always reminded of it – from the constant buzzing of the power lines to the soot and the noise.”

Pendergraft said the neighborhoods near the existing plant have the most to gain from AES’s plans for a new plant, which he argues are the most economically viable way to reduce power generation’s impact on the community.

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“I can appreciate that folks who live near the plant might not think it’s the best use of the property,” Pendergraft said. “However, I think when the final design of the new facility is complete, people will be very surprised at the significant improvement in their views and even the increase in their property values. The region as a whole will benefit from having a new, efficient, and reliable source of electricity to meet customers’ needs….This lower profile plant and demolition of the existing structure will significantly enhance ocean views and beautify the entire area. I think people will see that when the final designs are completed.”
Continue to page 2: Power and pollution


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