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State commission recommends extending life of gas-burning generator at H.B. power plant

HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA -- FRIDAY, AUGUST 12, 2016: A view of the AES Huntington Beach Generating Stat
The California Public Utilities Commission last week approved extending the operational life of an AES power plant in Huntington Beach for up to three additional years. The matter next goes to State Water Resources Control Board for consideration.
(File Photo)

A gas-burning generator at a Huntington Beach power plant could keep firing until as late as 2023, following a state commission’s recent vote.

The AES facility was scheduled to close by the end of next year, but the California Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously last Thursday to extend its operating life for up to three additional years.

Pushing back the plant’s retirement also would delay remediation of the site, as well as prolong the practice of “once-through” cooling — a process that uses sea water to cool the coastal energy transformers, which can kill fish and other marine life.

The proposed extension now heads to the California State Water Resources Control Board, which will consider the matter at an undetermined date.

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AES, which could not be reached for comment Tuesday, is replacing the 1950s-era plant at 21730 Newland St. with a modernized one that will use air instead of sea water for cooling, among other updates. The new plant is slated to come online early next year.

In September, Public Utilities Commission staff recommended extending the operational life of generators at four natural gas plants in Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Redondo Beach and Oxnard as one measure to stave off anticipated power shortfalls that could strike the state beginning in 2021.

Though they voted to recommend the extensions, every commissioner expressed some displeasure with the situation.

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Commission President Marybel Batjer called it “probably the most difficult vote I have had since joining the commission.”

She encouraged electricity companies “to do what is being asked of them and move more quickly in their procurement” of additional power capacity.

Added Commissioner Liane Randolph, “I’m not particularly happy about the OTC [once-through cooling] extension need, but I do think it’s necessary.”

The extension, she added, will ensure reliability of the power grid and help bridge the transition as California moves toward fulfilling its goal of having 100% of its power come from clean energy sources — such as wind, solar and hydropower — by 2045.

Peak energy use in the state has shifted to later in the day and the period of heaviest use has moved from August to September, “which increased the challenge to meet that peak,” Randolph said.

“As we know, solar and wind are intermittent resources and are unable to meet that precise need,” she said.

The “overall trend in California is that natural gas fire generation is, in fact, declining,” Randolph added, and “will continue to decline between now and 2030, but ... the reality is that those resources are needed.”

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However, Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves was more direct in her criticism of utility companies, noting what she called the “troubling dynamics of this decision.”

“This decision, for me, was something that should have taken place well over a year ago so that we wouldn’t be in the unfortunate situation of having to continue to rely on once-through cooling facilities,” she said.

Guzman Aceves said the state should have mandated that utility companies secure additional capacity sooner and that “we should be mandating even more to ensure a successful transition to meeting 2045 goals.”

“I want to recognize the burden the OTC communities ... will continue to bear for the benefit of statewide system reliability,” she said. “Not only will they continue to deal with the emission from these facilities, they will be delayed in their remediation and redevelopment of the areas.

“I will never support another extension,” she added.

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