Glendale goes forward with gas power plant, but environmentalists anticipate a greener outcome

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Glendale City Council members voted unanimously for a plan to rebuild an aging local power plant with some new gas infrastructure — in addition to clean and renewable sources — while also vowing to look for alternatives to gas by the time construction begins on the plant in a few years.

Environmental groups, which argue new gas isn’t necessary, ultimately supported adopting the proposal, believing that advances in technology and improvements in transmission will make the gas infrastructure obsolete by the time the project is underway at Grayson Power Plant.

“This is a plan. It’s not set in stone. It could be tweaked, it could be changed, and I want to make sure that that’s in the books,” Councilwoman Paula Devine said during a council meeting on Tuesday evening before voting in support of the proposal.

“Our job is to keep the lights on for all of you, and to do it with as much green energy as we can,” she added.

According to the plan recommended by Glendale Water & Power officials, several soon-to-be retired gas turbines at Grayson would be replaced by a combination of battery storage, wind and solar power, and programs to reduce energy consumption by homes and businesses, as well as five internal-combustion engines that run on natural gas,

However, City Council members will need to approve the purchase and installation of each engine, according to a condition attached to the plan. It could take two to three years before utility officials are ready to seek approval.

Environmentalists see that as crucial time bought.

“In that time, the world’s going to change again, like it changed over the last two years,” Dan Brotman, co-founder of the Glendale Environmental Coalition, said in a reaction video after the vote.

Last year, Glendale officials proposed a gas plant with a capacity of 262 megawatts. Facing pressure from environmentalists, city officials rejected the plan and launched a new call for proposals.

Now, the plant will have a capacity of 93 megawatts, which will only be used as a backup during peak demand. Officials also added a 50-megawatt battery with four hours of energy storage, among other clean resources.

“Hopefully, [by that time] there will be a new council, and we can make some better decisions,” Brotman said, adding that he’s still happy with the plan. He announced his candidacy for City Council during a rally he helped organize earlier this month.

“We’re really not going to see gas be as competitive in the next year, given that it’s already uneconomic,” said Luis Amezcua of Sierra Club. Amezcua said he doesn’t think any gas engines will be installed at Grayson.

According to Steve Zurn, general manager of Glendale Water & Power, future approval of engines was not a concession, per se — it is required by law. Council members reiterated the protocol for clarity, he said. An Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, will also need to be conducted to move forward with the project, said Kristiana Faddoul, a spokeswoman with the Sierra Club.

The vote marks a milestone in a fraught, years-long debate over the best path forward for Grayson that has pitted Glendale Water & Power and other city officials against environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club and Glendale Environmental Coalition, which see burning fossil fuels as contributing to climate change.

State lawmakers passed a bill last year requiring California to get 100% of its electricity from climate-friendly sources by 2045, a move that has forced electric utility managers to reconsider long-term investments in fossil fuels. Glendale officials on Tuesday discussed looking into ways to meet that goal by 2030.

Still, some utility managers are hesitant to abandon gas too quickly, arguing it’s still better than solar and wind in terms of reliably generating electricity around the clock.

Gary Dorris, president of the consulting company that developed the proposal, pitched the plan as the nexus between the city’s environmental, economic and reliability responsibilities.

With limited transmission to bring in external power, Glendale needs to generate enough of its own, Dorris said. If it doesn’t, it could face shortages that lead to costly blackouts.

That’s what his firm predicted would be the case with a 100% clean energy plan it studied.

“They’re cleaner,” Dorris said of two alternative plans. “They’re just irrationally cleaner from any economic perspective.”

He added, “You can spend your money a lot more wisely if you were trying to help the environment.”

Amezcua said Glendale will not have limited access to external resources forever, which will decrease its need to produce local power.

“A lot of the utilities are starting to understand that they need transmission to get to the clean energy,” he said, “and that it’s OK to rely on each other because... we need to work together to really build the broader vision for getting L.A. to 100% clean energy.”

Glendale was under the gun to approve a plan for Grayson by the end of the month. By then, the city is required by state law to submit its long-term electricity strategy, known as its Integrated Resource Plan, to the California Energy Commission.

Utility officials need to update the plan every five years, but Zurn said he can bring council members status updates on an annual basis.

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