AES Energy Center to Be Built by 2020

Sean Belk

Despite a last-ditch appeal by a community activist group against a proposed battery energy storage facility, construction of AES Southland’s modernized power plant in southeast Long Beach is on track to be completed by 2020, according to the company.

The $1.3-billion project involves replacing an antiquated 1950s-era natural gas-fired power plant located on Studebaker Road near the Los Cerritos Wetlands with a modernized 1,040-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant to be called the Alamitos Energy Center (AEC).

The new facility is being built to comply with a new state mandate that requires all power plants in California cease using ocean water to cool steam generators by 2020 due to impacts to marine life and habitats. The plant is expected to integrate renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, as well as a battery energy storage system anticipated as the largest in the world.

After receiving approvals from the City of Long Beach and the California Energy Commission (CEC) last year, construction on underground components and foundations began in July, said Dalia Gomez, AES spokesperson, in an email to the Beachcomber. Above-ground construction, including work on a new air-cooled condenser, will become more visible by spring, she said.

“Construction of the Alamitos Energy Center is in full-swing,” Gomez said. “2018 will be a very busy year for the AEC. About 50 percent of the construction activities for the Alamitos Energy Center are scheduled to take place this year.”

To comply with the new state mandate, AES proposes building “combined-cycle” natural gas turbine generators that would use an air-cooling internal radiator system instead of ocean water for cooling, according to AES.

So far, AES has completed nearly 70 percent of underground work, including foundations for two heat-recovery steam generators and combustion turbines and has installed more than 90 percent of pilings (underground structural supports), Gomez said. AES is using special drilling technology to install the piles quieter and less intrusive, she noted.

According to a company website, the first set of natural-gas-fired combustion turbine generators (generating up to 640 megawatts of power), are scheduled to be completed and in service by mid-2020.

Construction of additional combustion turbine generators (generating up to 400 megawatts of power), will begin in 2022, however, only if AES secures a power purchase agreement with Southern California Edison for the additional capacity.

Gomez confirmed that there will be no interruption of electricity service during construction as demolition of the existing power plant and steam generating stacks is expected to begin in 2021.

According to AES, the new power plant will be shorter and sleeker, reducing visual impact and improving appearance for local neighborhoods.

While no appeals were filed against the CEC’s approval of the power plant project last April, an environmental group called the Long Beach Citizens for Fair Development filed an appeal with the California Superior Court last November against the Long Beach Planning Commission’s approval of the battery energy storage facility, alleging the City’s environmental analysis is inadequate.

Still, AES officials state that the overall project will eventually create a nearly 50 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emission rates by increasing energy efficiency and supporting a much higher integration of intermittent renewable energy sources into the electrical grid.  

“Not only will the plant be more efficient and use about half as much fuel to generate the same amount of power, it will be highly flexible, meaning it can start and stop quickly and ramp up and down to more closely match energy demands,” Gomez said. “A more flexible plant will enable more wind and solar power to be integrated into the grid as it will be able to quickly support energy needs when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.”

The new energy center will be able to start up in as little as 10 minutes as opposed to the 10 to 18 hours it takes the existing units to start up, she said, adding that the new facility will serve as a “backup to renewables,” allowing the grid to use more wind and solar energy and providing additional energy only when needed to meet regional demands.

Once groundwork and pilings are completed this year, AES will start building all components of the energy center, including turbines, generators and air-cooled condensers as well as auxiliary equipment, piping and cables, Gomez said.

While construction deliveries of material and equipment are expected to increase this year, AES expects this to have “minimal impacts” on traffic since most traffic will exit off the 22 Freeway and immediately enter the Alamitos plant site, she said. Gomez said AES is scheduling work and deliveries to minimize impacts to traffic during rush hour on Studebaker Road.


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