Power, pollution and property rights were the hot topics Tuesday night at a voters forum on Measure A, the March 5 Redondo Beach ballot initiative to rezone the AES property on Harbor Drive.
A capacity crowd in the community room of the main library heard from proponents and opponents of the measure in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. City Councilman Bill Brand and longtime activist Jim Light, co-authors of Measure A, squared off against AES Southland President Eric Pendergraft and City Councilman Matt Kilroy.
The two sides described dramatically different impacts of Measure A, which would ban power generation on the site and allow recreation and open space on 60 percent of the land and commercial development on the remaining 40 percent. AES has applied to the California Energy Commission for a new plant on the land, which has been the site of power generation for more than a century, because the current plant uses a “once-through” ocean water-cooling system that must be phased out.
The proponents touted it as the a way to rid the city of a polluting, blighted and unnecessary power plant that endangers residents’ health and lowers property values while still providing substantial economic value to AES.
Opponents of the measure said it would drag Redondo into a costly legal battle by violating AES’ property rights, potentially saddle the city with the cost of maintaining a large regional park and hamstring the state’s ability to meet its future power with cleaner technology.
“Yes on A is the strongest message we can send to state power authorities that have the final say,” Brand said. “Without Measure A, we get a new, polluting power plant for 50 years. Measure A is good for harbor revitalization, good for city revenues, good for residents and good for AES.”
Pendergraft painted a starkly different picture while he was showing a rendering of the new facility.
“It (the new plant) will be smaller, cleaner, quieter and more efficient,” he said. “It will dramatically improve the skyline, increasing property values and providing new ocean views to hundreds of residents.”
The forum included detailed discussions on how much pollution the new plant would create, whether the power was needed for grid reliability and whether the Measure A zoning was consistent with nearby harbor zoning, among other topics.
Brand said the new plant’s emissions of particulate matter would be between five and 15 times greater than what the current plant emits, based on AES’ application to the CEC. He said the new plant’s three shorter stacks will emit pollution lower to the ground and that any increase in particulate emission was unacceptable.
“Even if they only run it at 25 percent capacity, that’s a five-fold increase,” Brand said. “Particulate emissions kill twice as many people in Southern California as breast cancer.”
Pendergraft said plant opponents were unfairly comparing the new plant’s potential emissions at maximum capacity with the far lower amount of emissions put out by the current plant, which typically only runs at 5 percent of its capacity. He said he expected the new plant to run at 20 percent capacity, although the actual rate of dispatch of the power will be controlled by Southern California Edison and the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO).
“At a 20 percent dispatch, we expect our actual emissions to be about five tons of PM (particulate matter),” he said. “That is equivalent to about 7,500 passenger vehicles. There are 40,000 passenger vehicles that travel from Aviation Boulevard to Torrance Boulevard on PCH every day. When you talk about emissions, you have to put things in perspective. We are taking an insignificant amount of emissions and we are building something that is newer, better, cleaner, more efficient and current state-of-the-art technology. It is overall providing our electricity with fewer emissions in the region and is a dramatic improvement over the existing air quality.”
Light disputed Pendergraft’s numbers related to how much pollution is created by vehicle trips, claiming that since car engines are also running more efficiently it would take 210,000 cars “driving around the power plant” to create the level of emissions that would be coming out of the new plant.
“Right now Redondo does not meet state or federal standards (for air quality),” he said. “You add a new power plant and you are just going to make the situation worse … There’s no way having no power plant will produce more particulates than having a power plant.”
Kilroy said that he agreed that “there is no safe level for particulate emissions and anything we can do to lower them is better.” However, he also quoted the Air Quality Management District as stating that the burning of wood creates five times more particulate matter pollution in the region than power generation.
Kilroy said that with the city having status as an intervenor in AES’ application with the CEC, he would push to have a needs assessment done to determine whether a new plant is necessary to meet power needs, regardless of the outcome of vote on Measure A.
But Light emphasized that the independent analysis of Measure A by the city attorney states that passing the measure would push the CEC to do a power needs assessment before it would override local zoning. He said there was only one case of the CEC denying an application for a new power plant without community opposition.
“The vast majority of CEC denials are based on zoning conflicts,” he said.
Pendergraft said that the current plant generates power used by Redondo Beach and that it was “premature” to say that a new power plant wouldn’t be needed in the future, especially with the current problems with the nuclear power plant in San Onofre. He said that the approval of a new plant is a long and complicated process that can’t be quickly jumpstarted if the need arises.
“If the plant’s not needed, we’ll have 50 acres available for other uses,” he said.
Brand quoted a state energy official who told the Redondo Beach City Council in April 2012 that not all existing once-through cooling plants would need to be repowered to meet projected power needs. He said with proper planning, the region’s power needs could be met without the Redondo plant. He also said at least three other cities had power plants retired after community opposition and without legal battles.
“If they can do it, why can’t we?” Brand asked. “I don’t want any emission from a new power plant and neither did those other communities.”
Kilroy warned, though, that Measure A represented a taking of AES’ property rights by requiring demolition of the existing plant and rezoning much of the land for public open space.
Pendergraft pointed out that at least one of the retiring plants Brand referred to was on land not owned by the power company that operated it. He said AES would protect its private property rights through legal action if necessary, although suing has never been the company’s preferred course.
“What would you do if someone rezoned your home and said that 60 percent of it had to be a community garden?” he asked the audience.
Light strongly disputed the contention that Measure A would result in a taking of AES’ land.
“If this is a taking, then the current zoning is also a taking,” he said, because it also requires open space. He said that the rezoning would still allow for 130,000 square feet of commercial development and as much as 433,333 if incentives for hotel and office use are acted upon. He said that Measure A provides significant economic benefit to AES while also allowing the company to generate power two years beyond its current permit.
Kilroy said that one of Measure A’s greatest faults is its creation of a large park without funding to pay for its maintenance. While the nonprofit California Coastal Conservancy told Redondo that it would help secure parkland funds four years ago, the city has received no such grants or funding. He said the city would be on the hook for paying for a regional park.
Light and Brand said the Conservancy has successfully funded the establishment of parkland along the coast of California, including in Palos Verdes, and that tax revenues from the commercial development on the AES property could also fund the park.
Kilroy expressed concern over the risk to the city’s total financial health if it gets into a legal battle over Measure A.
“Cities can and have been sued into bankruptcy,” he said.
But Brand said that the city should not be driven by fear of legal action.
“AES has no right to pollute our air, blight our waterfront, hurt business or impact property values,” he said. “Let's not abandon our right and duty to protect our health and economic vitality of our waterfront revitalization under threats of lawsuits.”