Grayson Power Plant project should be shelved


My primary motivation when it comes to developing policies that support clean energy and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels is our health and environment.

Many decisions made in Sacramento — or at local utilities and by our local governments — determine the health of our children and parents, the quality of our local environment and the planet we want to preserve for future generations.

For me, this is the first and most motivating reason to challenge decisions like the Glendale Water & Power’s $500-million plan to expand the Grayson Power Plant.

It is also the case that investments in fossil fuels are an increasingly risky and expensive bet. Much has been made in recent months about the climate and air quality impacts that expanding the Grayson Power Plant would have on Glendale.

I want to focus on the economic risks posed by this plant because it’s important to understand that a healthy environment and a good economy go hand in hand today, while investments in fossil fuels are increasingly taking money out of our wallets and holding our economy back.

To put it bluntly: Expanding the Grayson Power Plant will place an unacceptable cost burden on Glendale families when cheaper, safer alternatives exist.

The first thing that is striking about Glendale Water & Power’s proposal is how unnecessarily huge the project is. The utility proposes to tear down its existing power plant and rebuild it over the coming years.

When fully operational, it would provide 310 megawatts of power at any given moment. Glendale Water & Power projects that local demand for electricity is falling (even with the anticipated rise of electric vehicles) to 300 megawatts by 2035.

This power plant alone would provide more power than the city needs.

Of course, Glendale also receives power from a host of other power plants and is mandated to generate half its electricity from clean energy by 2030. I’ll point out that the utility’s consultants at Pace Global told our City Council in June 2015 that Glendale Water & Power would only need a 200-megawatt project. Even that is likely far too high.

During the three years the utility demolishes and rebuilds the power plant, a deal with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will provide just 75 megawatts to maintain reliable power.

So why are we being asked to pay for a 310-megawatt polluting power plant? While Glendale Water & Power has failed to make the case that it needs the power plant at all, it’s immediately clear that the power plant is far too big and Glendale Water & Power ratepayers risk being charged for a far bigger plant than the utility could possibly need.

Setting aside the energy needs of the city, clean energy is simply less expensive. The declining costs of solar, wind and storage are so low that they’re now beating fossil fuels in the free market. On Jan. 11, the California Public Utilities Commission ordered PG&E to replace three gas plants with energy storage and renewable energy.

In its statement, the utility said “PG&E believes that a portfolio of clean-energy resources including storage and distributed energy resources will allow us to provide competitive solutions and ensure reliability.”

Bloomberg News, reporting on the decision, noted that “a new era of batteries spells trouble for gas.” And looking across the West, the Colorado utility Xcel just released data from its recent energy solicitation, which found the average wind and energy storage project was offered for 2.1 cents per kilowatt hour. The median solar plus storage project was offered at 3.6 cents per kilowatt hour.

Compare this to Glendale’s current electric rates, which start at 13.5 cents for every kilowatt hour families’ consume and rises to 23 cents in the summer.

These economic trends are only accelerating, as is the public’s demand for clean energy. Across the state, 76% of residents support transitioning to 100% clean energy. Legislation under negotiation right now would achieve this goal by 2045.

Whether it’s the declining costs of clean energy or state legislation, it is increasingly likely that Glendale residents will foot the bill for an expensive stranded asset that will need to retire just two decades after it turns on.

The good news is that there’s plenty of time to get this right. Glendale should halt plans for Grayson, bring in external consultants to develop a clean-energy alternative and move our city into the cost-effective, clean-energy future Glendale deserves.

LAURA FRIEDMAN (D-Glendale) represents La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, Glendale, Burbank and neighboring communities in the the 43rd Assembly District.