The controversial Redondo Beach natural gas-fired power plant that has been slated for closure two times because it pulls in ocean water then discharges hot water back into the sea will likely get another lease on life. Next month state water regulators are expected to approve keeping three of its generators with 834 MW of capacity online for an additional two years, through the end of 2023. If approved, it would follow an earlier one-year extension.
The units expected to remain running are 67 years old. The power station is owed by AES. It uses an outdated technology that sucks in large quantities of seawater for cooling hot turbines and then expels the heated wastewater back into the ocean. Modern technology often uses a closed loop.
Projected shortages of power during extreme summer heat is driving the extension of Redondo operations, and that of three other sea water-cooled Southern California power plants: AES’s 1,137 MW Alamitos and 226 MW Huntington Beach, and NRG’s Ormand Beach. All now are to remain online until the end of 2023. The California Independent System Operator has said California could fall short by 5 GW next summer during a western-wide heat wave.
Conservation groups and Redondo Beach politicians are fighting the extension.
Redondo “does not work”
The South Bay Parkland Conservancy said the aging, inefficient Redondo plant takes 12-24 hours to power up, was unable to provide electricity during any of last year’s so-called flex alerts and was fined for violating wastewater discharge and air quality permits, according to Aga Chen-Fu. “So, we have a power plant that does not work, that we do not need, that consistently violates its permitting requirements, that was scheduled by the Water Board to be decommissioned in 2020, but we are going to keep it operating anyway?” She also claimed the State Water Resources Control Board action to extend the plant’s operations violates the California Environmental Quality Act for not conducting an updated environmental analysis.
Surfrider’s Joe Geever, whose has fought extending the Southlands wet cooled power plants operations, said keeping “these old steam boiler dinosaurs available to back up the grid” for supposed reliability was “hopelessly insane.”
Redondo City Councilmember Todd Lowenstein warned earlier this year that the noisy plant spews particulate matter that causes heart attacks and asthma, and that 5,000 children live within a mile of the facility.
Generating stations that burn natural gas also emit significant amounts of nitrogen oxides, which in sunlight form lung-burning ground-level ozone. People in the Los Angeles basin, especially people of color, are exposed to levels of ozone far above the federal health standard.
AES sold the 51 acres on which the plant sits to a developer last year, who agreed the plant could keep running on standby if granted a state extension.
Redondo “significantly decreases” blackout risks
Keeping Redondo Beach online another two years won’t eliminate power outages in California during high demand in a western-wide heat wave as the sun sets. “However, this risk would be significantly decreased due to the availability of additional power from Redondo Beach,” according to a Statewide Advisory Committee on Cooling Water Intake Structures report.
More than a decade ago, the State Water Board set deadlines for phasing out or retooling the 19 coastal plants to greatly reduce their use of ocean water because of the harm to fish, seals, and the coastal ecosystem.
There had been years-long push to close the once-through cooling plants. To date, nearly 13,000 MW have been shuttered. That includes the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in June 2013, almost a decade ahead of schedule after it sprung a radioactive leak.
But while fossil power plants were closing, meeting demand in California was becoming more dicey. In November 2019, the California Public Utilities Commission directed the utilities and other power providers to line up 3,300 MW of additional power by August 2023. The utility regulators also called for delaying the closure of the four Southern California coastal power plants to avert supply shortages, some due to delays in getting new transmission projects online. Last September, the Water Board agreed to extend Redondo’s closure date to the end of 2021, and the other three generating station to the start of 2024.
In March of this year, a multi-state agency advisory group recommended keeping Redondo online another two years in response to rolling blackouts in August 2020. With Redondo remaining online, the estimated summer 2022 shortfall drops to 229 MW, the California Independent System Operator told the Statewide Advisory Committee in March.
Redondo is estimated to draw in 80 million gallons of water per day and discharge the same amount as heated wastewater. The Ormond Beach plants uses 227 million gallons per day and Huntington Beach 82 mgd. In contrast, the Diablo Nuclear Power plant uses close to 2.3 billion gallons of water per day. Both its units are slated for closure by 2025.
The water board is scheduled to vote on the extension Oct. 19.