On a Sunday in early April, six out of the power-generating eight units at Grayson Power Plant were all inoperable. One had a blown boiler tube, one was down due to turbine repair work, one was scheduled to be offline and another was out of the picture because two other units were down.
The superintendent of the aging plant was able to get some of the units back up and running that evening, 10 hours after calling in maintenance, electrical and plant control-system crews. Others remained unavailable for use for 24 hours.
It was an extreme example of what happens at a plant whose generating units are mostly 16 to 42 years beyond their design life, which ranges from 20 to 30 years.
Currently, two of the units are out of service and may not be back online for the high-demand season during the summer because of extended delays in getting approvals for emergency repairs, according to a city report.
To fast-track emergency repairs during a possible heat wave, the City Council this week set aside $5 million in emergency funding for Grayson Power Plant and approved seven contracts with firms that repair problems such as asbestos, broken steam turbines, electrical issues and power outages.
Normally, it could take months before a contract is approved by the city, but by planning for the work beforehand, repairs could begin sooner. The power plant must withstand the pressure of a possible heat wave as it generates renewable energy from landfill gas at Scholl Canyon and is responsible for reserves needed in the region during disasters such as fires or earthquakes.
"If Grayson did go down and we need to bring the repair people in, we need them there yesterday," said City Manager Scott Ochoa at the City Council meeting Tuesday, adding that officials hope to not spend the $5 million.
When multiple units are unavailable, Glendale Water & Power has to purchase more energy and reserves, said Steve Lins, Glendale Water & Power's chief assistant general manager of power and support services.
"Depending on market conditions, that can be relatively expensive," he said in an email.
But replacing or maintaining units is also expensive. For years, city officials have been balancing the need to put money into the plant and their lack of resources. Utility officials have said the electric-side of the utility is set to become insolvent by 2017.
Back in December 2011, the council approved spending $470,000 on consultants to study how much it might cost to improve parts of the plant, which has three boiler units that are inefficient and increasingly expensive to maintain.
However, officials have been deferring maintenance in order to study whether to replace old parts, demolish and rebuild, or do nothing.
Some council members were wary of paying for a study that may come back with an unmanageable price tag, but the council still approved the study. However, the report, which was supposed to be complete last July, has yet to be completed.
"It's the type of thing where you can spend just tens of millions of dollars bringing it to the very tip-top shape, but it's also one of those things we use relatively infrequently," said Councilman Ara Najarian, comparing the plant to a used second car.
But Councilman Frank Quintero said the plant deserves the utmost care.
"Overall, to me, that power plant is a strategic issue for us. We have the ability there — in case of major earthquakes and other mishaps — to generate our own power," he said. "What we need to do is to always make sure that we have it in a state of readiness."
If an average 24% rate hike over five years and a $60 million bond are approved by the council, which is set to review the proposal next month, officials plan to spend $18.6 million of $94 million earmarked for capital improvements on the plant.
The $5 million in emergency funding approved this week is not included in that figure.