The new AES power plant near Newland Street and Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach is 91% complete and entering its last phase of construction before the project goes live for commercial operation next year, the company said during a community meeting Tuesday night.
Stephen O’Kane, AES’ director of sustainability and regulatory compliance, said testing will begin Oct. 3 on the new plant’s high-voltage electrical systems, pumps, fans and compressors to ensure the equipment can operate safely and effectively. It will be the first time AES tests the plant with fuel, O’Kane said.
“We don’t just build it and say, ‘OK, guys, let’s see if it works,’” he said. “We do it all very systematical. We’ve been doing cold commissioning and testing pumps with electricity, making sure all those [work] leading up to the first start-up.”
AES is replacing its 1950s-era seaside plant at 21730 Newland St. with a modernized one that the electric utility company says will include several improvements, including using air instead of sea water to cool the plant.
The new plant is intended to produce up to 844 megawatts of energy, enough to power 675,000 to 844,000 households at a time. The current plant generates 450 megawatts, enough to power about 400,000 homes, according to the AES website.
AES has a contract to provide energy to Southern California Edison from a 644-megawatt generator. There is not a purchasing agreement for two planned 100-megawatt generators. O’Kane said Tuesday that those won’t be built if they can’t be contracted.
Residents gathered at Edison High School’s cafeteria to learn about the next steps in the project, which broke ground in mid-2017. Residents asked about 40 questions related to air monitoring, construction, environmental and seismic concerns during the two-hour meeting. AES’ contractors, geologists, engineers and construction manager also were on hand.
O’Kane said the most noticeable component of the final phase will be steam blows, in which heat from the combustion turbines is used to generate high-pressure steam to clean the main lines and pipes of the new plant. The process will begin shortly after Oct. 3 and run for about one to two weeks during the daytime.
Residents shouldn’t be alarmed if they see big white clouds emanating from the pipes when the turbines are started, O’Kane said, because it’s normal to see clouds of steam. Residents also may hear a hissing sound, he added.
The new plant was built with sound walls and designs to help it function quietly, but if something doesn’t work as it’s supposed to, the company will shut down the plant and talk to the contractor, O’Kane said.
After the steam blows, workers will make any necessary tweaks until the plant goes live.
“If everything is successful, we’ll be ready for commercial operation in January, which is three months ahead of our schedule,” O’Kane said.
The California Energy Commission authorized the license for the new plant in 2017. AES bought the existing facility from Southern California Edison in 1998.