It ain’t easy running a big city, let alone switching it from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Los Angeles has been taking steps to wean itself off fossil fuels for more than a decade. For instance, the city council voted in 2013 to phase out coal-fired electricity at its Utah power plant, and in 2016, to study how to get all the way to 100% renewable electricity. But in between those two dates, it signed a contract for part of a big natural-gas-fired power plant to be built in Utah — potentially locking the city into decades more carbon emissions. (Burning natural gas emits less carbon than coal, but still more than non-carbon-based energy sources). And since 35 other utilities are also involved in the Utah deal, it’s not easy to change course at this point…which left LADWP between a rock and a hard place.
At a meeting of the LADWP’s Renewable Energy Advisory Group this past Thursday at LADWP headquarters, David Wright, the utility’s general manager, explained the depths of this dilemma, and how he plans to make the best of the situation. His approach: coax the other utilities in the Utah deal into building a smaller, cheaper power plant instead, use the savings to build more wind and solar farms… and arrange to finish paying off the plant well before 2045, when a proposed 100% renewable energy rule might require mothballing it.
At Thursday’s meeting, several members of the audience expressed more concerns about overall cost of the deal than about carbon emissions, while others took the opposite view, valuing environmental concerns over total cost. Jack Humphreville, the GWNC’s representative on the DWP’s Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, also asked whether a smaller plant in Utah would mean burning more fossil fuel in local power plants (which themselves are also slated to be replaced; see below), but the question was not clearly answered. In the end, however, the audience did seem to accept Mr. Wright’s reasoning for pursuing the smaller plant in Utah.
The proposal will likely come up for a vote soon by the city council. And time is of the essence. Unless the proposal is signed soon by all 35 utilities in the Utah deal, there won’t be enough time to finish the power plant redesign before construction begins in January 2020, and the larger plant would have to be built.
Finally at Thursday’s meeting, LADWP also presented about plans to upgrade power plants near LAX and Long Beach that use too much seawater for cooling. The $2.2 billion upgrade of the Scattergood, Harbor, and Haynes powerplants was paused last summer to study downsizing and/or replacing them with renewable energy or battery storage. As with the new Utah plant, the upgrades have to start soon to meet state requirements.
LADWP’s board will meet at 10 a.m. this Tuesday, June 12; the agenda shows there will be presentations on the local power plant upgrades and on the City’s 100% renewable energy study. As always, the public is invited to attend and comment on issues before the board.