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Brand: Grassroots Effort Can Stop AES

Redondo Beach City Councilman Bill Brand argues that a strong grassroots effort can stop AES from building a new power plant on the city's waterfront.

My name is Bill Brand, and I’m the City Councilman for the Harbor, Pier and power plant area on the waterfront of Redondo Beach. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity right under our noses, and most don’t even realize it.  How cool would it be to replace the smoke stacks and power lines that have blighted our waterfront since 1897 with new uses that will dramatically improve our quality of life?

San Francisco and Chula Vista recently retired their power plants because of community opposition and political pressure—so can we!

filed plans with the state of California almost a year ago to rebuild their power plant on the South Bay coastline. I say South Bay because while it may be located in Redondo Beach, what happens here will affect the entire South Bay for the next 50 years.

AES officials have testified that they’re going to build a new power plant—about half the capacity of their current one, and free-up a large portion of this 50 acre site for potential “other uses.” But this is no place for a new power plant of any size. Here’s why:

We Don’t Need the Power

Everyone should be concerned about keeping the lights on. We all remember the blackouts 12 years ago when industry titans like Enron were gaming the power market in California by sending electricity out of the state, only to create artificial shortages that drove up prices and profits at the expense of public safety.  The crisis was one of manipulation more than a capacity shortage.

But since then, 84 new facilities have been built in California for a total of 32,693 megawatts—that’s over 50 percent of the total capacity in the state. And over 7,000 MW have been retired with more retirements on the way. AES Redondo should be next.

Many people are shocked to hear that power plants are retired and decommissioned. But, it makes sense given that many new ones are being built outside of densely populated areas where the air pollution, even from natural gas-fired plants, is unhealthy for the public.

The South Bay is part of an area that is constrained by how much electricity it can import. But there is still significant excess capacity—enough that a large power plant can be retired. “There is sufficient capacity to retire a once-through cooled power plant in the LA area,” according to a senior policy analyst at the California Energy Commission.

In fact, there are numerous reports published by the California Energy Commission, the California Independent System Operator, and now two independent consultants funded by the State Coastal Conservancy that imply, or very specifically state, that power generation at the Redondo Beach AES facility is not required for grid reliability as far out as 2021, the furthest any responsible agency is willing to predict. 

These studies all have growth rates, increased electrification of cars and the need to integrate renewables in their models. To quote from one report, “….a repowered Redondo Beach power plant is not a necessary element of the future electrical grid after 2018 when its current contract will expire…”

Fiscal Nightmare

Now that we know power production from this plant is not needed to maintain reliability, what about the loss of revenue to the City of Redondo Beach if AES Redondo is retired?

The reality is this power plant, which rarely operates and mars 50 acres of our waterfront, only provided about $369,000 in revenue to the city over the last several years. This is almost a rounding error to our $100 million budget and $60 million general fund. But, the negative impact it has to our local business climate in the form of reduced business revenues, lease rates, transient occupancy taxes, sales and property taxes is much greater. Because of the power plant, our own city report states, “Retail sales growth is less than one-tenth of that of other areas in Redondo Beach.” 

Analysis of commercial property values adjacent to this industrial facility by another city study concludes, “This indicates a negative change of over 40 percent compared to the City as a whole.”

By eliminating the industrial blight, increased revenue to the City far outweigh the measly $369,000 lost from eliminating this eyesore.

As for the jobs AES provides to our local community, their current plant provides 50 jobs, and they stated in their testimony in November that their new plant will reduce that to 30.  As a comparison, the employs 261 and the 339.

Air Pollution Will Increase

Any new plant will operate much more often than the current plant, thus emitting far more air pollution.

In 2009, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, and even AES officials themselves, AES Redondo emitted 5.23 tons of particulate emissions operating at just 5.9 percent of capacity. A new plant, like the one currently under construction in El Segundo, operating at 60 percent capacity, will be permitted to emit 58.3 tons of particulate air pollutants—a tenfold increase! Being a chemical engineer myself, I found these levels alarming!

What are particulate emissions? They’re an odorless, invisible, silent type of air pollution that is hazardous to our health. According to the EPA and American Cancer Society, exposure to particulate pollution kills more than twice as many people in California than breast cancer every year.

Particulate matter, especially the smaller diameter ones, invades your lungs and even enters your bloodstream and can cause heart attacks. From the EPA regarding particulate exposure:

“Short-term exposures to particles (hours or days) can aggravate lung disease, causing asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and may also increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. In people with heart disease, short-term exposures have been linked to heart attacks and arrhythmias.  Long-term exposure to particulate pollution can cause heart and lung problems.  The young, the elderly, those with preexisting heart and lung conditions and those who work out outdoors are especially susceptible.”

Those are just the particulate emissions: other pollutants like nitrous oxides will increase by 519 percent, sulfur oxides by 466 percent and ammonia by 344 percent at a 60 percent run rate.

Is it any wonder that the elected officials of San Francisco, Chula Vista and Carlsbad have all opposed new power plants in their towns? Watch this short video to see how Carlsbad is fighting an NRG plant on their coast.

What should amaze everyone is the slow and meandering pace of Redondo and Hermosa Beach city officials, and the inability to mount the needed opposition.  Both cities could have passed a resolution a long time ago opposing a new power plant here.  We can’t wait any longer; time is running out. It’s time for the residents to take matters into their own hands.

I did not come to this decision quickly. I first made a motion to our City Council back in August of 2010 to simply explore our zoning options and how we could phase out power generation on our coast. After all, our own staff had recommended this in a 300+ page document years ago. No one seconded my motion and that was 18 months ago.

Because the City Council of Redondo Beach will not act, the residents must! We have the power to write an initiative to phase-out industrial uses on our coast. We can phase-out these operations by giving AES an amortization period to complete their current economic interests to the end of its useful life, most likely somewhere around 2018 when their current contract expires; and craft new zoning with a mix of commercial and open space that allows for significant economic use and benefit for the landowners.

A new power plant here is not only bad for our health, it will prevent the Redondo Beach waterfront and Harbor area from reaching its full potential. It’s time to redefine and redesign the character of our coastline for generations to come.

To help, please visit nopowerplant.com and consider a financial contribution that will go toward legal fees for the initiative. Measure DD was successful because of this type of grassroots effort, and we can do it again. We really have no choice. There is no other way. Doing nothing will result in a new power plant. Only strong, public opposition will stop it.

Bill Brand represents Redondo Beach's Second District, which includes King Harbor, the and AES Redondo Beach.

Jane July 15, 2012 at 08:54 PM
So how goes the illegal TAKING of the AES power plant? Seems like it's falling flat on its face. The Council is smart enough NOT to get involved. The initiative will allow AES to sue the city for reduction in value of the site. That'll be a multimillion $ mess.
Jim Light July 16, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Jane, In case you haven't been tuned in, we expected the Council to do nothing. That is why we developed and turned in the initiative funded by hundreds of residents. The Council's inaction and indecision makes them, as one supporter wrote in, the irrelevant city council. AES' current power contract runs out in 2018. Under CURRENT zoning a new power plant is a "conditional" use, not an automatically permitted use. AES must do something by 2020 to comply with new environmental laws. There is nothing in CURRENT zoning or state law that guarantees AES the right to build a new power plant at this site. Our initiative allows AES 15 to 20 acres of commercial development. That is more than the Decron lease at the south end of the harbor. They will have plenty of value from their land. So Jane, you continue to misrepresent the real situation.
Lee Markle August 03, 2012 at 08:58 PM
And let's say AES packs up and leaves. Has anyone taken a look at how huge that plant is? Anyone have any idea how long it will take to clean it up? How much real pollution will we see when they start knocking that place apart? How many people are employed at AES? How many will lose their jobs? Do you know what unemployment REALLY is in CA? If you combine unemployed, with under employed, with independent contractors who don't claim unemployment, with those who have stopped looking, you are well over 20%. But of course we do have another train to no where. Have any of you considered the tax loss to the city if AES say Adios? I doubt any of you care. Maybe we can tax the rich and make up for it.
Jim Light August 03, 2012 at 11:34 PM
Lee - thought about it. The initiative requires tear down by December 31, 2022. They are liable for the polluted land by Federal Law. AES has already stated that tear down and clean up would be covered by the salvage costs of the plant and equipment. This is just more fear mongering. If AES can't build the new plant, they will want to turn the property around and make money on it... Otherwise they will be paying property and other taxes, losing money on the property. The initiative allows AES to get lots of revenue from the WATERFRONT commercial zoning. The commercial will produce more city revenues. The power plant tear down would eliminate the plant's pollution and blighting impacts. Surrounding businesses will bring in more revenue and surrounding property values would increase. More jobs would be created. AES wins, residents win, surrounding businesses win, and the City wins. So yes, Lee. We thought about it.
Jim Light August 03, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Per AES 50 people work at the plant currently. The new plant would require only 20. The commercial zoning of the initiative would employ many more. As far as pollution of the tear down...that will happen whether the plant is torn down for a new plant or for commercial development. AES contributes less than 4/10ths of 1 percent of city tax revenue. They are exempt from UUT tax. The commercial portion of the initiative would generate more city revenues in sales and property tax revenues than the current plant yields. Our rezoning initiative equates to a win for everyone!

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