Glendale Approved What May Be California's Last Natural Gas-Lit Power Plant
Glendale may have just become the last city in California to approve a natural-gas-fired power plant.
On Tuesday, the city council voted in favor of a plan to "repower" its decades-old Grayson Power Plant by installing five new natural gas-burning combustion engines.
But the new plan also calls for a mix of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar, along with battery storage, relying on the gas-burning engines to handle peak demand, and it allows the city to pivot away from gas if other alternatives emerge before construction gets underway.
The Grayson plant sits along the Los Angeles River near the interchange of the 5 and 134 freeways. Its current combustion engines are due to be retired in 2021.
Representatives from Glendale Water and Power, the utility that operates the plant, say that the project allows them to extend the plant's lifetime amid increasing energy demands, and they pointed out that it will even reduce the amount of fossil fuel consumption compared to a previous proposal.
"We want to be green, one-hundred percent efficient, economical, but most importantly, we want to be reliable," said Glendale City Councilwoman Paula Devine.
Environmental activists had opposed any new gas-fired infrastructure. About 400 protesters showed up at city hall on July 9 to rally against rebuilding the plant, casting it as a reinvestment in fossil fuels during a time of climate crisis.
But they supported approving the plan when the city agreed to attach several conditions suggested by the Glendale Environmental Coalition and Sierra Club, including:
- That the city will need to grant the utility final approval for each of the proposed gas-burning engines
- That the city will continue to explore cleaner energy sources
The city also said it would seek to add new transmission lines in order to import more renewable energy from outside sources.
Activists said the plan buys them time. In the two years before the current plant is retired, they say, clean energy storage could become more competitive than natural gas as prices continue to fall and the technology advances.
The project's approval comes as California law sets a deadline for utilities to make the switch to 100% renewables by 2045. Moving to beat the deadline, many utilities have shuttered their gas-burning power plants, even years before they are set to retire, citing the falling cost of renewables.
In February, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the city was dropping its plan to invest billions to repower three natural gas power plants along the coast, opting instead to fast-track the Department of Water and Power's goal of 100% clean energy. In April, Southern California Edison chose to install an array of battery storage units instead of following through with a gas plant proposal that was planned in Puente. And in June, citing cheap wind and solar, PG&E said it would retire a 750-megawatt natural-gas-fired plant in the Inland Empire 20 years before its expected lifetime expiration.
According to the California Energy Commission, there are no other active power plant proposals currently on the table.
This is actually the city's second attempt at a repower plan after an earlier proposal was rejected in 2018 for not including enough clean energy. The approved project will be more than $100 million cheaper and be less fossil fuel-intensive, with only about a third of the maximum power-generating capacity as the original plan.
Dan Brotman, a founder of the Glendale Environmental Coalition who spoke at Tuesday night's meeting, said he was happy with the change in direction.
"Glendale residents want the lights to stay on, of course, but they want this done without worsening the air for our children, our elderly, or without contributing to our worsening climate crisis," Brotman said.
The next step for the project is to undergo an environmental impact study, after which construction will begin. The process could take a year, according to Mark Young, Deputy General Manager at GWP.
At this point, Young said he feels "60% confident" that the Grayson repower will become fully realized.
Correction: A previous version of this article mischaracterized the position that the Glendale Environmental Coalition took on the council's vote. The Coalition supported approving the plan with the conditions attached, as described in the updated story. LAist regrets the error.