AES power plant black smoke

Black smoke can be seen coming from the AES Redondo Beach power plant about 3 p.m. Thursday, July 25. (Courtesy Jim Stadler via Facebook)

Redondo Beach intends to sue the State Water Resources Control Board over a recent decision to extend the life of a power plant in the city for one year and three others around Southern California for at least three more years.

The board, for its part, declined to comment specifically on the proposed lawsuit. An agency spokesperson, however, did defend the board’s decision — saying it was “sensitive” to the concerns Redondo Beach officials raised.

The AES Redondo Beach power plant, built from 1954 to 1967 — along with aging power plants in Long Beach, Huntington Beach and Oxnard — was slated to shut down at the end of the year because of a state prohibition, adopted in 2010, on drawing in seawater to cool power-generating facilities. The Water Resources Control Board extended the plants’ operations, officials have said, to help relieve the burden on the state’s electrical grid.

The City Council voted unanimously in closed session this week to file the lawsuit, arguing the board should have demanded a comprehensive environmental study before extending the life of the plants, according to City Attorney Mike Webb.

The city has not yet filed the lawsuit. But Webb issued a press release on Thursday evening, Sept. 10, detailing the decision.

“Despite acknowledging the significance of their actions, State Water Board Members did not demand a complete environmental review before approving the extension,” Webb wrote. “Instead, it deferred to other state agencies’ representations that more power was needed from one of California’s oldest, and least efficient, power plants.”

AES U.S. President Lisa Krueger, however, said the water board made the right decision, citing the blackouts that during August and the heatwave on Labor Day weekend as examples of why the power plants remain necessary.

“The water board made the decision to extend Redondo for one year because of the imperative to keep the lights on for South Bay residents during periods of power shortages or when fires threaten the transmission grid,” Krueger said. “Fortunately, at the same time this decision has been made, the state is well ahead of schedule in meeting its OTC policy goals for marine life protection.”

OTC stands for Once-Through Cooling, which is the method of using ocean water to cool power plants. 

Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand, though, said the electrical grid shouldn’t need the power plants to supplement the state’s needs.

“Both planning and management of the grid have failed,” Brand said in a text message Friday. “It’s unacceptable, and apparently only special investigations and lawsuits are going to get to the bottom of why things are going in the wrong direction. “

State Water Board spokesperson George Kostyrko said the board was sensitive to concerns Redondo Beach officials raised, which was why the board chose to limit the extension to one year rather than three, as it chose to do for the other power plants.

The board, he said, “pressed the energy agencies to re-do their analysis to respond to citizen and city representative concerns raised at the board meeting.”

Any other criticism of the proceedings would be refuted by watching video of the meeting, he added.

In making its decision earlier this month, board members cited demands on the electrical grid that required the state to keep online even those power plants that were outdated. The California Public Utilities Commission called for extending the life of the plants last year due to future power demands.

Foes of the power plant in Redondo Beach, however, showed up in force during a water board meeting held over video conference Sept. 1. Some presented photos of black smoke billowing from plant stacks, noting their health concerns considering the site, they said, is surrounded by the most densely populated neighborhoods on the state’s coast.

“This happens very often,” Brand said of the black smoke during that meeting. “It’s investigated and nothing ever happens. Fines are never issued.”

In its forthcoming lawsuit, the city will argue the water board violated state law by not fully analyzing the environmental impacts of extending the life of the power plants before making its decision to do so, Webb wrote in the city’s Thursday press release.

“This means more marine life will be killed,” a city statement said, and more “harmful air pollution emitted into the densely populated South Bay communities of Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, and other surrounding cities.”

Contact Lisa Jacobs lisa.jacobs@TBRnews.com or follow her on Twitter @lisaannjacobs.

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