Troubled power firm tries to restart two generators

Published on

The Associated Press

The owner of a Huntington Beach power plant that has agreed to pay $17 million to settle air pollution claims is trying to crank up two dormant generators to feed the state’s ailing power grid.

Consumer groups and local leaders oppose the move.

“The real problem is market manipulation by profiteering power companies,” said Douglas Heller, a consumer advocate for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica.

AES Corp. is asking state regulators for permission to reactivate two of its five generators at its Huntington Beach Generation Station. The move would add 450 megawatts to the underfed power grid by July.

AES plans to spend at least $130 million on the project and recoup the costs through the soaring electricity market over the next five to eight years.

The proposed retrofitting of the station 37 miles southeast of Los Angeles was the subject of a workshop in Sacramento on Thursday to discuss how AES would account for its environmental impacts.

Gov. Gray Davis is trying to speed up such projects as a way to add 5,000 megawatts of new power to the grid by mid-summer, when demand is expected to exceed supply by thousands of megawatts during peak hours.

Because state permits often are affected by federal decisions on water and air pollution, Davis has asked President Bush for assistance to expedite permitting.

AES, a global power firm with annual revenue in excess of $5 billion, is currently paying $17 million to settle accusations by the South Coast Air Quality Management District involving air pollution produced by its Alamitos facility at the mouth of the San Gabriel River near Long Beach.

AES executives told The Orange County Register the problems occurred because the company had difficulty juggling pollution regulations with high power demands.

Emission problems caused the Huntington Beach plant to temporarily turn off generating units in November.

AES executives were not immediately available Thursday for further comment.

Before the two dormant generators could be restarted, the project would have to win approval from the California Energy Commission. The city is also studying the issue and will make a recommendation to the agency, which has scheduled an information hearing on on Feb. 21 at the Huntington Beach Library Theater.

Local leaders fear a speedy approval could undermine environmental concerns.

“We are looking at any possible way we can stop (the approval) or have control over it,” Mayor Pam Houchen told the Register last month.

Houchen was on vacation Thursday and unavailable for comment. Calls to other council members were not immediately returned.

The plant wasn’t always the focus of such hostility.

“It is frustrating,” said Ed Blackford, site manager of the facility. “But we have been in this business for a number of years. We are used to it, I guess.”

Built in the late 1950s, the plant was originally surrounded by oil fields. Homes began going up nearby about a decade later.

Residents got some relief in 1995, when Southern California Edison, which then owned the facility, shut down two of the five generators. The three other units remained open and now supply a total of 563 megawatts.

When deregulation began in the mid-1990s, major utilities were ordered to sell their generators. Edison sold the Huntington Beach facility to AES in 1998. The company initially planned to demolish the two unused units and replace them with modern ones.

But by last May, California’s looming power woes spurred AES to consider a quicker move. On Dec. 1, AES asked the California Energy Commission for permission to retrofit the old generators instead of demolishing them.

Blackford said the project is the fastest way to get California more power.

“Our original plan was to put in the most modern and efficient equipment, but that is like a four-year window to permit and procure the equipment,” he said.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

Latest Videos

Latest Releases

In The News

Latest Report

Support Consumer Watchdog

Subscribe to our newsletter

To be updated with all the latest news, press releases and special reports.

More Releases