A Look at Glendale’s Biggest Issue – The Grayson Power Plant

by Gerry Rankin

[This is an expanded version of Gerry's article that appears in the latest ECHO]

The biggest issue before the City of Glendale right now is what to do about the Grayson Power Plant. Glendale Water & Power (GWP) has developed a proposal to replace the old gas-fired Grayson Power Plant with a shiny new gas- fired Grayson Power Plant. This proposal is called the “Grayson Repowering Project.” The estimated cost is $500 million. A draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) has been written to support the proposal.

GWP may have thought that this proposal would slide by potential roadblocks during the Holiday Season, receiving the blessing of the City Council and perhaps even escaping the attention of the California Energy Commission on the grounds that it is a mere repair job of an existing plant. Nevertheless, the project has run into serious roadblocks. Inspecting the thousands of pages of the draft EIR, Daniel Brotman, a local leader of the Sierra Club, did not like what he saw and decided to do what he could to organize a committed cohort of people to follow his leadership in opposing the proposal. He raised enough support to encourage the City Council, in particular Zareh Sinanyan, to become deeply concerned, as well, about apparent problems with the project. As a consequence, GWP has been asked to rethink its proposal and to bring to a public hearing, set for January 23, 2018, a fresh analysis of alternatives to the proposed Grayson Repowering Project. This hearing before the City Council should be of great interest to the entire city.

In a recent development, California State Senator Anthony Portantino and Susana Reyes, current Vice President of the Sierra Club at the National level, combined to write a stinging critique of the Grayson proposal. It appeared in the January 6-7, 2018, edition of the Glendale News-Press.

Let me give you some background, especially as it might affect Glenoaks Canyon residents. Since October, local newspapers have been reporting that Glendale Water & Power (GWP) has been relying extensively on purchases of electricity off the electric grid because the cost of generating electricity at Grayson Power Plant can no longer compete with the prices offered on the grid.

It’s hard to disagree with City staff when they say that Grayson Power Plant, as it exists today, is no longer competitive. It is no longer an asset; instead, it has become an encumbrance. And one of its biggest burdens on the City is that it is a gas-fired plant. The GWP’s proposal to remake Grayson Power Plant into a modern, state-of-the-art, gas-fired power plant is based on a fallacious premise. It is now impossible to run a state-of-the-art gas-fired power plant in California no matter how much money is poured into it. By definition gas-fired is not state-of- the-art. It has become an obsolete way of producing electric power. Certainly that is the case in California where the goal of the State Government is to eliminate all gas-fired generation of electricity in California by the middle of this century. GWP is proposing a solution that goes directly opposite of the State’s goal of converting to 100% renewable energy. It is as if GWP is totally unaware of the immense concern that the State of California and most of the rest of the world have with regard to “global warming” and the ultimate fate of life on earth.

As one of its strongest arguments for replacing the City’s gas-fired power plant with a “repowered” version of the old gas-fired plant, the GWP offers the claim that electricity transmission lines are not reliable. The City needs to produce its electricity locally, it contends, because transmission lines carrying imported electricity to the City might fail causing residents to be without electricity for a significant period of time. In support for this argument, the draft EIR states concern that the existing system of transmission lines is inadequate to ensure an appropriate flow of electricity during times when summer heat stresses the system. Yet, as has been reported in the news media, due to the poor performance of the old Grayson Power Plant, a substantial majority of the electricity currently being used in the City is imported off the grid, delivered by the transmission lines that support the grid. Nevertheless, there has been no apparent problem with this arrangement, despite the exceptionally hot weather Southern California experienced this September and October. The fact is that the network of transmission lines serving the electricity grid in California is now more extensive and more efficient than it has ever been.

The proposed rebuilding of the Grayson Power Plant is the main part of the Grayson Repowering Project, but the draft EIR fails to cover three other elements that are inextricably tied to it. These elements are as follows:

  1. Expansion of the Scholl Canyon Landfill beyond the level currently allowed under an existing State permit. A Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) on this element was released to the public almost four years ago, but nothing, as of yet, has come of this project, since the City has still not responded to the many hostile public comments sparked by the DEIR.

  2. Installation of what the City calls the “Biogas Renewable Generation Project” at Scholl Canyon Landfill. It would consist of four separate generators, which would utilize the methane gas from the Landfill to produce electric power. A major part of this project is a plan to shutdown the pipeline that is currently used to transport the methane to Grayson. Also, it should be noted that additional generators beyond the four in the current plan would be relatively easy to install and thus increase the amount of electricity that could be produced by the power station.

  3. The addition of an Anaerobic Digestion Facility located at Scholl Canyon Landfill adjacent to the electric power generators proposed in the “Biogas Renewable Generation Project.” The gas from the Digestion Facility would be available, along with the methane from the Landfill, to feed the power station. Thus, with the Anaerobic Digester working to convert organic waste into gas and with the power station standing ready to use the gas from both the Landfill and the Digester, an expansion in the capacity of the Landfill would be accomplished without actually having to expand its vertical or horizontal boundaries.

These three elements must be included in any complete analysis of proposed future changes at the Grayson Power Plant. Several questions have been raised about the City’s claim that the addition of the “Biogas” power plant and the Anaerobic Digester is a necessary part of the Grayson Repowering Project. GWP’s most often used argument in defense of the “Biogas Renewable Project” is that it will be needed to take care of the methane gas that is naturally occurring in the Landfill and cannot be stopped. Otherwise the gas, according to GWP, would have to be flared into the atmosphere during the several years when the new Grayson Power Plant is under construction.

But what about, Unit 9, the one good gas-fired turbine at Grayson? Is the City going to junk it too? Of course not! What about the completely serviceable pipeline that currently brings the Landfill gas to Grayson so that it can be used in Unit 9?

Why is the City so anxious to tear out the pipeline that moves the methane gas from Scholl Canyon to Grayson Power Plant? The City has provided no evidence to support comments that are intended to give the impression that the pipeline is defective and dangerous. Moreover, why is the City so anxious to stop all electricity production at Grayson for an extended period during the “repowering” process even though Grayson still possesses one existing turbine that GWP says is in excellent condition and is capable of competing with other first-rank gas-fired turbines in the State?

Every Environmental Impact Report is required to include a discussion of alternatives to the recommended solution in the event that a better alternative may exist. There is a better alternative in this case. The better alternative is the one costing the least both financially and in environmental degradation. It is the one identified as “No Project Alternative.” The City should simply use the single generating unit that still works efficiently (Unit 9), junk the rest of Grayson, and depend upon the grid for the bulk of the power that is required to run Glendale. Unit 9 can be counted on for 48 megawatts of power while purchases from the Magnolia Power Plant in Burbank would add another 39 megawatts. The rest that is needed, 200 megawatts or whatever is required, can be imported from the grid, which has been demonstrated to be far more reliable than an aging gas- fired plant made from components forty to seventy years old, and which would likely be every bit as reliable as a nearly brand new five-hundred-million-dollar gas-fired plant. Incidentally this alternative would also have the pleasant side effect of apparently eliminating GWP’s threat to disconnect the pipeline from Scholl Canyon Landfill to Grayson unless a power station is built at the Scholl Canyon site. Neither the power station nor the proposed anaerobic digester would, then, be necessary at Scholl Canyon. Most importantly, the City of Glendale would be saved from carrying the burden of financing a five-hundred- million-dollar project, and the people of Glendale would be relieved to know that the air they breathe would no longer be polluted by one of the biggest contaminators in the City today – the failing Grayson Power Plant. Adoption of the simplest, less costly alternative, instead of working against California’s program to close down or substantially reduce the number of gas-fired power plants in the State, would enable Glendale to become an important part of this program and would help to clean up the environment in our city and the rest of the Los Angeles Basin. If the City still has the urge to spend millions, it might take some of that five hundred million dollars and invest it in a solar panel farm somewhere many miles distant in a far-away desert.

For more information and to see what you can do, please visit The Glendale Environmental Coalitions page  http://stopgrayson.com.