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City Council votes to look at renewable-energy alternatives for Grayson plant

City Council votes to look at renewable-energy alternatives for Grayson plant
Dan Brotman, an economics professor at Glendale Community College, speaks to a crowd of more than 200 who rallied in front of Glendale City Hall Tuesday over a proposed renovation of the Grayson Power Plant in Glendale. Brotman formed the Glendale Environmental Coalition. (Jeff Landa)

The future of Glendale's gas-fired power plant is on hold, as Glendale City Council voted 4-1 — after a debate that went into Wednesday morning — to take no action on the project's environmental impact report and instead pursue more renewable-energy alternatives.

The 3 a.m. result reflects a recommendation made last week by the Glendale Water and Power Commission to essentially halt further action on the Grayson Power Plant renovation project so that a request for information, or RFI, could be issued that would collect plans for renewable alternatives from outside firms within a 90-day period.

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For months, state officials — including state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) — and renewable-energy advocates and environmental groups, such as the local Glendale Environmental Coalition, have argued that city officials should pursue renewable alternatives as a way to "repower" the Grayson plant and avoid further investment in natural gas where possible.

The utility is pushing a proposal to have the nearly 80-year-old natural-gas plant undergo a renovation to maintain the facility's reliability. On the table as the preferred option, is a $500-million project that would replace seven of the facility's eight, gas-fired, electrical-generation units and provide about 250 megawatts of electricity to meet the utility's peak load of 350 megawatts.

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The utility is proposing to pay for the renovation through revenue bonds, and no energy-rate increase is tied to the renovation, said Steve Zurn, general manager of the utility.

Although Councilmen Vrej Agajanian, Vartan Gharpetian and Ara Najarian were initially willing to certify the project's environmental-impact report and move toward one of the options prepared by the utility, Agajanian and Gharpetian eventually joined Councilwoman Paula Devine and Mayor Zareh Sinanyan in pursuing an RFI.

Sinanyan commended city staff members for their presentation of the impact report, but renewed his February push to have a third-party consultant complete a report with proposals for clean-energy alternatives that both meet reliability obligations and avoid further investments in natural gas.

"Everything in [the report] is colored by the fact that no independent, unbiased, impartial study of the alternatives was conducted," he said.

Once again, hundreds of Glendale residents against the $500-million Grayson project rallied outside Glendale City Hall before the meeting on Tuesday and later voiced their concerns that potential environmental impacts — such as green-house gas emissions and increased air pollutants — were understated by utility officials.

The project did have some supporters, the most prominent of which were Rick Lemmo, president of the Downtown Glendale Assn. and Greg Tan of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce, who both said Glendale businesses as well as residents need to be supplied with reliable power.

According to a forecast by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the share of total electricity supplied by natural gas-fired power plants is expected to average 33% this year and 34% in 2019, a jump from the 32% reported in 2017.

However, Robert Weisenmiller, chairman of the California Energy Commission, told the Wall Street Journal in March, "You're not going to get anywhere if you are just adding more and more gas…at some point soon we'll be permitting the last gas plant in California."

City staff will now issue an RFI to solicit professional opinions and plans over a 90-day window from consultants who will be asked to provide renewable alternatives based on the status of Grayson and its goals.

Twitter: @JeffLanda

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