L.A. Plugs In a Tiny, Nonpolluting Power Plant

Times Staff Writer

As part of efforts to expand the city's supply of clean energy sources, Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn announced Friday the opening of a small power plant using fuel-cell technology.

The plant, built next to the Department of Water and Power downtown headquarters, will provide enough power for only 250 homes, and its electricity will cost five times traditional power. But Hahn said the project is an investment in a developing technology that can help Los Angeles clean its dirty air.

"Today we become a national leader in energy-efficient technology and we hope to set the standard for public power," Hahn said.

"We believe it's an investment in our future, an investment in clean air in our region."

Federal and local officials said the DWP facility marks a breakthrough in fuel-cell technology because it is the largest and most efficient model designed for commercial use.

Fuel cells are electrochemical devices, much like batteries, that convert hydrogen and oxygen into electrical energy.

David Wiggs Jr., DWP general manager, said the technology uses half as much natural gas per kilowatt-hour as a conventional power plant and produces nearly zero emissions of pollutants because it does not burn the gas.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony comes a month after environmental groups called on the city to increase the amount of energy it generates from clean, renewable sources from 2.2% of its total output to 20%.

In comparison, about 12% of the electricity provided to California residents comes from renewable sources.

Los Angeles recently announced creation of a wind power project near Mojave that will boost the city share of renewable energy to 3.7%.

Martin Schlageter of the Coalition for Clean Air attended Friday's ribbon-cutting and praised city officials for investing in new technology. He said he foresees a day when fuel-cell plants will be built at hospitals, universities and other large facilities so they will have their own efficient power sources.

The DWP plant was funded in part by a $3-million grant from the Department of Defense, which is interested in developing fuel-cell technology for use in tanks, trucks and ships and in field operations.

The average cost of electricity generated by the DWP is 4 cents to 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, but the new fuel-cell plant's electricity will cost 20 cents to 25 cents per kilowatt-hour, officials said.

Mike Binder of the Defense Department said the cost will come down as the technology improves. In fact, another fuel-cell plant under construction by the DWP on Terminal Island is expected to generate electricity for about 12 cents per kilowatt hour.The project won praise Friday from U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, who said Los Angeles is on the leading edge of power technology.

The plant was built by FuelCell Energy of Danbury, Conn., and follows construction of a small 200-watt prototype built by another firm at the DWP's Main Street facility.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 18, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction Power plant -- An article in Saturday's California section about a new power plant that uses fuel-cell technology incorrectly reported that the project was funded in part by a $3-million grant from the Defense Department. The department contributed $250,000 to the $3-million project.
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