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Demonstrators protest plan to continue burning fossil fuels at Glendale power plant

Demonstrators protest plan to continue burning fossil fuels at Glendale power plant
Hundreds of people gather for a rally held in front of Glendale City Hall by local environmental activists to promote clean-energy-only solutions for the aging Grayson Power Plant. Council members are expected to decide the facility's energy future later this month. (James Carbone / Glendale News-Press)

Wiping tears from her eyes, 16-year-old Ash Rosas told a rowdy crowd outside Glendale City Hall on Tuesday she was fighting climate change for her sister, who is 6.

One of the nearly 400 attendees — a number the city challenged — who gathered to protest rebuilding a local power plant with additional natural gas, Rosas said she refused “to sit and do nothing when I know we can bring a better future — a greener future.”

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“I don’t want to see the world turning upside down,” she added, eliciting cheers from the crowd.

The rally, organized by the Glendale Environmental Coalition, comes just weeks before City Council members are expected to vote on a plan to replace aging infrastructure at Grayson Power Plant.

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Organizers said that about 370 people signed a registry at the event, but a city spokeswoman challenged the number, saying in an email that the number of demonstrators was closer to “85-100 max.”

Members of the Sierra Club, Glendale Tenants Union, Democratic Socialists of America and other groups showed up in solidarity.

Ultimately, the event was intended to pressure local leaders to drop a recently proposed plan that would include several internal-combustion engines that run on natural gas, in addition to battery storage, wind and solar power, and programs to reduce energy consumption by homes and businesses.

With members of Glendale City Council elected citywide rather by district, “We can keep all five [of them] accountable for continuing our clean-energy progress, stopping this last gasp at Grayson,” said speaker Hans Johnson, president of the East Area Progressive Democrats.

Any registered Glendale voter can vote for any candidate.

Dan Brotman, co-founder of the coalition, announced his candidacy for City Council toward the end of the one-hour event.

“I’d never been involved with political action before. I never really wanted to have to be,” Brotman said. “But this just came about, and it has been incredibly rewarding.”

Brotman co-launched the coalition in response to a now-scrapped plan from last year to repower Grayson with 262 megawatts of gas.

A rally held by the group around that time appeared to move the majority of City Council members to question the proposal, and sent Glendale Water & Power officials back to the drawing board to look at alternatives.

While the new plan includes 93 megawatts of natural gas — about a 65% reduction — Brotman and his supporters said they are not convinced any additional gas is needed.

It’s a stance that echoes a state trend: Earlier this year, Los Angeles officials scrapped plans to rebuild three gas-fired power plants along the West Coast. Last month, General Electric said it would shut down a gas plant in Riverside County 20 years ahead of schedule.

“[Glendale officials] were wrong then, and we think they’re wrong now,” Brotman said.

Last week, a city-hired consultant argued the gas is needed to keep the lights on and affordable in Glendale. Gary Dorris, president of the consulting company, said the city doesn’t have much space for renewable energy facilities in its own backyard and lacks transmission to import what it needs from outside the city.

Steve Zurn, general manager of Glendale Water & Power, agreed, attributing the change in the utility’s proposed plan to rapidly changing technology rather than error.

“We just have a difference of opinion at the end of the day, on some gas or no gas,” Zurn said after the rally, but added that city officials were “going with the minimalist approach with gas.”

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.

“A lot of this is untried and untested, so, in certain circumstances, we’re taking kind of a risk,” Zurn said. “But, at this point, it’s a risk I was willing to recommend to push us more toward the ultimate position we want to be in.”

Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian, the sole council member to vote for the 262-megawatt plan last year, said he’s “miles away from where I was a year ago.”

He added, “We’re moving in the right direction. I want to make sure that whatever decision we make ensures safety and reliability.”

The City Council is set to consider the issue on July 23.

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