It’s final. In the tension between electricity reliability and harmful pollution, reliability won out in a vote on Oct. 19 to keep the aging Redondo Beach fossil-fired power plant online for another two years. The 834 MW natural gas plant will provide peaking power as needed to the grid through the end of 2023. That’s on top of the extra year approved last year.
“Last year, I heard a commitment from the board that the one-year extension was going to be the final extension,” Senator Al Muratsuchi (D), who represents Redondo Beach, told the State Water Resources Control Board. “The board needs to uphold its commitment.”
“I am frustrated too,” State Water Resources Control Board Chair Joaquin Esquivel responded. “But the need is still there,” he said, noting the board looks at current conditions that affect the entire state.
The Water Board voted 5-0 to extend the closure date, initially set for Dec. 31, 2020, until the end of 2023, because of projected statewide energy shortages the next two summers as the sun sets on very hot days.
Representatives from the City of Redondo Beach opposed the extension on grounds the board failed to conduct an environmental analysis of the extension’s impact under the California Environmental Quality Act. James Westbrook, head of BlueScape Environmental, said a CEQA analysis must be done because the plant’s harmful emissions, specifically particles smaller than 2.5 microns and black smoke, have never been assessed. He said a vote must be postponed until the analysis is conducted.
The water board said a CEQA analysis was not needed because there is no significant change in the project or underlying policy.
Scott Wetch, representing the State Building and Construction Trades Council and other trades unions, said the plant opponents were missing “the elephant in the room.” He pointed to the huge surge in the reliance on big backup diesel generators in the state, which spew more nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide than Redondo if turned on because of a grid emergency resulting from a resource shortfall. The backups also run to keep power flowing during utility safety shutoffs and other outages. Southern California saw a 34% increase in backup systems last year. The Bay Area experienced a 22% increase in just under three years.
Scott Murtishaw, policy director for the Independent Energy Producers, said keeping Redondo Beach online through the end of 2023 “is the most important step the state can take to fill the reliability gap.”
When planners apply the new interim 17.5% planning reserve margin, up from 15%, the projected electricity shortfall rises to 1,063 MW next September. That is typically when California has the highest net peak demand.
Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand opposed the extension, saying plant owner AES will get paid $40 million for remaining on standby for two more years. He also called the $1.5 million in community grants for regional wetlands and bay health promised by the power plant owner “a pittance.” Even worse, he said, was that the grants are for projects outside Redondo Beach that are not impacted by the plant because the local groups opposed the plant extension.
In 2010, the State Water Board set deadlines for phasing out or retooling 19 once-through gas-fired power plants along the California coast. The old technology causes harm to fish, seals, and the coastal ecosystem. But while fossil power plants were closing, meeting demand in California was becoming more challenging.
Last year, the water board gave AES’ 1,137 MW Alamitos and 226 MW Huntington Beach and NRGs Ormond Beach power plants the okay to remain running through the end of 2023.