Council powers up AES discussion
The battle over the future of the AES power plant took a decisive step into the public arena Tuesday night as the company’s future plans for the site were presented to the Redondo Beach City Council.
The council chambers were filled to capacity and residents lined out the door to hear a presentation from AES Southland president Eric Pendergraft and the project director Jennifer Didlo. Discussions grew heated after 24 citizens stood up to voice their opinions, none of them for rebuilding.
Pendergraft told the council that a decision has not yet been made to rebuild, but that if new plant is indeed built, the facility would be drastically smaller. He estimated a new plant would cost $650 million to build and take up only 19 acres of the 53 acres taken up by the current plant, leaving open space for whatever the community and the company deemed appropriate. At any rate, Pendergraft said, the existing plant would come down.
“We don’t have any illusions that you all would be happy if we left [the old plant] standing there,” he said. “So from a perspective of making sure this is a project that is good for the community and the city, we are under the expectations that we will remove the facility.”
Most residents who spoke were vehemently against any kind of new plant.
“Whether it’s smaller or not, it’s still putting lipstick on a pig,” said resident Chris Elson.
A citizen’s movement, led by Councilman Bill Brand and Building a Better Redondo president Jim Light, has emerged that seeks the removal the power plant from the Redondo waterfront by rezoning the area to no longer allow power generation. Residents have conducted rallies alongPacific Coast Highwayseeking support to tear down the plant. They argue is that the plant is no longer needed in the California power grid and threatens public health due to its pollution and proximity to so many residents.
AES filed a plan with the State Water Control Resources Board in April tentatively signaling its intentions to rebuild itsRedondo Beachplant. A state law passed last year requires power plants to almost entirely phase out the use of ocean water for cooling purposes by 2022. AES, which currently uses ocean water, filed an “implementation plan” to modernize its plant. Construction of a new plant would begin in 2015 and be completed by 2025. Final approval of any such plan would occur in 2013.
Pendergraft said that the corporation has made no final plans. He acknowledged that studies indicated its power production may not be needed, citing estimates that the westernLos Angelesbasin in 2015 will need only 5,998 megawatts while the energy resources in place would produce 8,971 megawatts. He stressed, however, that energy needs in 2020 or 2050 – which the plant would be built to serve – are not yet known. The company’s current contract ends in 2018.
“We will only move forward constructing the new plant if it is needed,” Pendergraft said. “And if we are able to secure a long-term contract that will support being able to get financing for the facility and allow us to construct it.”
Councilmen asked questions of the AES representatives regarding the legality of the process, their fears of being sued by AES, what potential uses the site could in fact hold for the community and the details of the environmental impacts of a new plant.
“I think I see three things the city can be involved in,” Councilman Steve Diels said to Pendergraft. “We can fight you, as is the public dialogue to fight the ‘public interests’ and the ‘evil power plant.’ We can work with you to minimize the negative impacts and maximize the benefits, or we could work with you somehow to help you relocate the plant… I would like to see that the whole discourse change and that we work with you to try to maximize the benefits and minimize the impacts and if at all possible find a new location and to try to really work with you and get something done for the benefit of everybody in the long term.”
As the AES representatives spoke, citizens sitting in the audience shouted out questions. “What about the condenser fans?” somebody from the audience asked during a moment of silence. Mayor Mike Gin tried in vain to keep a more positive dialogue going.
“I think what’s really important tonight is to understand that this is an effective opportunity if it is handled properly,” Gin said. “Having an opportunity to work with you [AES] as a private land order to see what could potentially be some alternative uses. You have said yourselves that there may or may not be a power plant there. If you don’t get approval for a new power plant and that land won’t be used, you want to work collaboratively with us to really create a project that is something that can be a special part of our harbor. We really have a win-win scenario.”
Throughout the five hour meeting, people stood in the doorway, in the aisles and even sat in the foyer watching the meeting from the television. Audible gasps and faint mumblings could be heard as people spoke.
“We will take this information and verify everybody’s claims,” said Councilman Steve Aspel. “Everybody has to be fair and look at both sides. That’s what we were elected to do.”
Brand made clear where he stands on the issue.
“My vision for the waterfront is not another power plant, not another industrial facility,” said Councilman Bill Brand. “I’m not naive, I know it might end up happening, but that is not my vision. What I think would be best for Redondo and the South Bay would be to retire the power plant and the power lines; that would be an upgrade to the community.”