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Answering community complaints, AES says noise and plumes from new H.B. power plant are temporary

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AES’ new and modernized Huntington Beach power plant, depicted in this rendering, has a design intended to fit with the city’s surf culture.
(File Illustration)

In response to calls and emails about noise and plumes being emitted from its new Huntington Beach power plant, AES released an email saying activities to commission the plant are responsible for the disturbances and that they are temporary.

AES issued the update Wednesday to address concerns about noise and yellow and orange plumes coming from the plant near Newland Street and Pacific Coast Highway, which recently started the first part of the commissioning phase after more than two years of construction.

During what the utility company called the steam blow phase, natural gas is combusted in gas turbines to create high-pressure steam that cleans the main pipes throughout the power plant, AES said in its email.

“This phase is critical for avoiding damage to the equipment and the life of the plant,” AES said.

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AES is replacing the existing power plant at 21730 Newland St. that was built in the 1950s and ‘60s. That facility generates 450 megawatts of energy, enough to power more than 400,000 homes and businesses, according to AES’ website.

The new, modernized facility is intended to produce up to 844 megawatts of energy, enough to power 675,000 to 844,000 households at a time, and will include several changes, including using air instead of seawater to cool the plant.

AES bought the existing facility from Southern California Edison in 1998. The California Energy Commission authorized the license for the new plant in 2017.

AES said the yellow or light orange plumes venting from the new plant’s stack are temporary and will not be part of normal plant operations. They are, however, “a normal part of the commissioning process,” the company said in the email.

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“What you are seeing is oxides of nitrogen,” the email said. Pollution control equipment cannot yet be installed in the unit, the company said, which is leading to higher output than in normal operations.

Noise coming from the plant also is a result of the steam blow process, the company said. Closed-loop steam blows will occur 24 hours a day for one to two weeks, and open-air steam blows will occur intermittently between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., according to the email, which said the process began last week.

When stacks are open, steam is released from the steam lines and vented into the atmosphere, causing a loud hissing sound. However, closed-loop steam blows also create noise, AES said.

The steam plume from the initial blow may have a yellow or light orange appearance and the stack also may emit an odor, but “it will usually clear itself in a short time,” the company said.

Stephen O’Kane, AES’ director of sustainability and regulatory compliance, said at a community forum in August that if the steam blow phase and follow-up operations go as planned, the plant could be operational in January — three months ahead of schedule.

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