To build, or not to build? That is the question simmering over plans to build a new power plant in Redondo Beach. Or is it?
Photographed by Marisa Guzman Aloia
(page 1 of 3)
The proposal by AES to rebuild the Redondo Beach Power Plant is one that is literally and figuratively explosive. With a highly complex matrix of political opinion, legalities, regulatory commission rulings, scientific data and medical research, the questions surrounding its imminent future remain both daunting and frustrating. The political innuendo and public relations pounding from every side have left many South Bay residents confused and exhausted. And given that much of the data won’t be released for some time, it appears the battle will continue to unfold for a while. The ramifications are tremendous for either outcome, and it has the potential to affect every resident of California—not just those of the South Bay.
To better understand the origins of the conflict, you need to begin with a deadline projected eight years in the future.
Under Governor Schwarzenegger, the California Clean Energy Future Program required that ocean water-cooling systems be phased out in the state by 2020. The Redondo Power Plant, which uses seawater to cool the turbines and then releases the water back into the ocean with residual toxins, does not meet those new requirements. Thus, either AES must build a new plant to comply with this mandate or retire the site permanently.
The city of Redondo Beach now must decide to either allow another power plant saddled with visual blight and medical risk or to accept it and move ahead with the best compromise with AES. There are risks on both sides of the equation.
If the plant is not built, the overall California power grid could be compromised, making rolling blackouts a potential reality. If the plant is built, there are hazards to the health of residents in one of the most densely populated areas of the South Bay region. Highly toxic particulate emissions can cause asthma, coronary disease and cancer.
An industrial site since the late 19th century, the aesthetic implications of the land have been a contentious issue for some time. SoCal Edison built the plant in 1948. AES acquired the land 50 years later.
The current power plant sits on 53 prime acres above a filled-in salt marsh and near the Redondo pier and King Harbor—one of the more highly populated regions of the Southern California coastline. The behemoth plant is capable of producing 1,310 megawatts of power at full capacity, and the current permit allows it to run at full capacity 100% of the time.
According to AES project manager Jennifer Didlo, “The current plant operates at full capacity (1,310 MW) about 5% of the time, but it operates at some capacity about 45% of the time.” That number varies due to the energy needed for the overall grid, because energy is produced in specific places, but it goes back to the grid and is then sent to the areas in need.
Ms. Didlo concedes, “We agree that it only runs at full capacity 5% of the time, but when the grid needs power, it must run.” She goes on to note, “The more a new power plant runs, the less an old power plant runs.” When asked to confirm that the proposed Redondo plant would operate more frequently, she replies, ”AES has no control over when the plant operates. That’s determined by what the grid needs, and we don’t control that.”
he proposed Redondo plant would include significant changes from the existing one. The new plant would operate at 500 MW of power at full capacity, and it would operate at increased efficiency, thereby producing fewer toxic particulates into the air.
“We feel that we can operate the new plant at full capacity 25% of the time and produce the same particulates we produce from the current plant that operates at full capacity 5% of the time.”
In other words, as long as the new plant does not exceed operating at full capacity 25% of the time, toxic particulate emissions would remain the same. However, any overage would constitute an increase in particulate emissions. Additionally, that constitutes an increase in noise pollution by 20% of the time.
Physically, the new plant would take up approximately 12 acres, reducing the current footprint by 75%. AES proposes that the remainder of the land be determined mixed-use commercial and public park land.
The new plant would have three stacks reaching approximately 140 feet high instead of the current five stacks surpassing 200 feet. AES has proposed that the new plant be more aesthetically pleasing, so the visual blight would be minimal.
Adds Jennifer Didlo, “We don’t expect to get a license to operate at full capacity 100% of the time, but we expect to get one that permits us to operate at full capacity about 75% of the time.” The actual percentage that it will run at capacity will be determined by the overall grid need when it is built—not by AES in the application process.
And therein lies the argument proposed by the vocal opposition to the power plant: If the new power plant represents a reduction in physical size, megawatt power and particulate emissions but it receives a license to operate at full capacity up to 75% of the time—and AES has admitted that new power plants operate more frequently than old plants—then does it stand to reason that the proposed AES power plant would operate much more frequently at full capacity than the existing power plant and thereby produce more toxic air pollution and more noise pollution?