LA Mayor Moves To Shut Down Three Power Plants In Favor Of Clean Energy Alternatives

Mayor Eric Garcetti announces his intention that LA Department of Water and Power not replace three coastal gas-burning power plants but instead find a combination of renewable energy sources sufficient to take their place. (Sharon McNary/KPCC/LAist)

Mayor Eric Garcetti on Tuesday announced that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power would scrap plans to replace three coastal gas-burning power plants and instead replace them with an as-yet unproven array of renewable energy sources and storage.

"This is the beginning of the end of natural gas for the LADWP," Garcetti said.

Garcetti was surrounded by cheering environmentalists and community activists as he spoke outside the DWP headquarters building. "The cost of living cheap in the short term is very expensive in the long term," Garcetti said, referring to the quality of life damage such as extreme weather and disastrous wildfires that comes with climate change prompted by the emission of greenhouse gases.

"These are things that are human caused, we know that," Garcetti said, "And we know what can solve it."

Shutting down the three plants would reduce the utility's use of natural gas for power production by about one-third over the next 10 years. The plants to be closed produce 2-7 percent of the city's electricity and are most critical during the hottest days of the year, when demand for air conditioning spikes and power supplies are stretched to the limit.

Which plants are targeted for shutdown, and why?

The plants are Scattergood in El Segundo, Haynes in Long Beach and another one in the Los Angeles Harbor area. They use ocean water for cooling, known as once-through-cooling or OTC. State regulations governing such plants call for them to be shut down because they make ocean water more acidic, which is not good for sea life. The plants faced deadlines of 2024 and 2029 for the shutdown.

In November, some DWP staffers presented 12 scenarios for replacing the plants, either with new gas-burning plants, a combination of plants and renewable sources of power, or no gas-burning plants at all. The options without any gas plants were marked as potentially unreliable, or too costly. But environmentalists felt those risks were over-blown.

What's this all going to cost?

The DWP commissioners were very up front in saying that right now, they don't know what it's going to cost to end the DWP's use of natural gas to generate power at these three plants. It's going to take a while for staffers to figure out the real cost.

Meanwhile, the gas plants replacement project was going to run about $5 billion, so the idea is to use that money on other things, like more local solar energy generation and local energy storage.

One of the problems that communities are going to have to face is that DWP does not have an appropriately large transmission network to move power from these new renewable sources around the city.

Environmental justice advocates speaking to the DWP board of commissioners cautioned that the poor communities that have breathed in the pollution from other industries not be further burdened by things like big new transmission poles and lines in their neighborhoods.

What are some of the challenges in replacing the gas-powered plants?

The plants are what's known as peaker plants, which means they run when the city needs that little bit of extra power on the hottest days when we're all running our air conditioners and demand for power is high.

What DWP is looking at doing is increasing the amount of solar and other renewable forms of energy within the L.A. Basin, and more importantly, finding new ways to store it. And to some extent that means battery storage - the LADWP is only now working on its first really big battery storage project up in the desert.

But it could also mean getting energy through new water turbines like those at Castaic Lake up along I-5. They pump water uphill during the day when they have plenty of solar power and then that water is run downhill to power turbines at night or when wind and solar power are not available. They're looking to do something similar at Hoover Dam.