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LADWP Rushes To Fix Methane Leak They'd Known About For Months

The Valley Generating Station in Sun Valley (Courtesy LADWP)
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Equipment at a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power generating plant in the San Fernando Valley has been leaking natural gas for months, and staff knew about it. But they didn’t make the leak public until scientists flying overhead on a methane mapping mission noticed it.

Workers at the Valley Generating Station in Sun Valley found the leak in a compressor back in the spring. The compressor had been installed in 2015 to replace older equipment that also leaked gas. LADWP ordered parts and planned repairs for November.

Why wait so long? Summertime is when air conditioning puts peak demands on the power grid.

Southern California will be in the sweaty grip of a heat wave this Labor Day weekend. And that’s when every bit of generating power the city can find will be put to use, if not for city residents, then to share outside city limits in Southern California Edison territory, to help reduce the chance of rolling power outages.

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Not a good time to shut down for repairs.

In the meantime, DWP allowed the equipment to continue leaking. At about 100 kilograms of gas per hour, the utility considered the leak small enough to be “incidental emissions that are not generally subject to regulation or permitting.”

But then, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab detected the leak in July and early August while using special aircraft-mounted cameras to map methane emissions. JPL scientists notified LADWP about it on Aug. 21. It was part of a statewide survey to map leaks.

That’s when DWP finally went public. Environmentalists complained that even at the level detected the plant was polluting the area and adding to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council also called for an explanation.

The DWP now says temporary repairs should be done by Friday, and a permanent fix completed later this year after the temperatures cool.

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