AES Plans $2 Billion 'Energy Center' Near Wetlands

Sean Belk
Proposed AES facilityCurrent AES facility


In the next four years, AES Southland hopes to build a modernized natural gas power plant or “energy center” in Long Beach that would integrate renewable energy sources such as wind and solar along with a battery energy storage system expected to be the largest in the world.

Plans call for demolishing the existing 60-year-old natural gas-fired power plant once operated by Southern California Edison on Studebaker Road adjacent to the Los Cerritos Wetlands and replacing it with a smaller, cleaner and more efficient facility to be called the Alamitos Energy Center.

The development comes more than five years after the California State Water Resources Control Board adopted new rules, mandating that power plants by 2020 cease using “once-through” cooling systems that use ocean water to cool steam generators, due to impacts on marine life and habitats.

To comply with the new mandate, AES proposes constructing combined-cycle natural gas turbine generators that would no longer use ocean water for cooling and instead use an air-cooling internal radiator system, similar to what is used in a car, according to AES officials.

AES officials confirmed that three separate projects, including construction of the new 1,040-megawatt natural gas-fired combined cycle power plant and the battery energy storage system and demolition of the existing facility and steam generating stacks, will cost a total of about $2 billion.

Still, environmental preservationists with the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust argue that AES should scale back its proposal and choose a less impactful alternative with a smaller natural gas-fired generator than what AES proposes in order to reduce fossil fuel pollution and impacts on the wetlands.

The energy center and battery storage projects are currently undergoing an environmental review process through the California Energy Commission (CEC) while the demolition is subject to a separate environmental review through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the City of Long Beach.

The CEC is scheduled to host its second evidentiary hearing on AES’s energy center proposal on Dec. 20 starting at noon at The Grand Event Center at 4101 E. Willow St.

During the first evidentiary hearing on Nov. 15, 70th District California State Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell and 3rd District Long Beach City Councilmember Suzie Price both expressed their support for the project as proposed, stating that benefits from the modernized facility will outweigh concerns raised by environmentalists.

“Natural gas is natural gas,” O’Donnell said. “That’s the best technology we have today. Maybe in another 25 years we can get to a point where we can solely rely on wind and the sun. It’s just not there from a technology standpoint today.”

Price, a member of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority, said she is “very comfortable” supporting the project as proposed, noting that the new energy center will have a “smaller footprint” than the current facility and AES has committed to providing aesthetic enhancements along the corridor.

A major benefit of the new facility is that it will integrate intermittent renewable energy, including from wind and solar, into the state’s electrical grid, according to AES officials, who add that it will be able to start and stop within minutes unlike the existing power plant that currently takes 12 to 36 hours.

In addition, the new energy center will provide “operational flexibility,” enabling the most efficient use of renewable energy resources, lowering costs and emissions while providing increased electrical reliability to the grid, according to AES officials.

Dalia Gomez, spokesperson for AES, told the Beachcomber that the new Alamitos Energy Center will help conserve natural resources by using 50 percent less natural gas to deliver the same amount of energy as the existing power plant or possibly even more.

“This provides a wonderful opportunity for AES to renovate what we have going on here,” she said. “Our systems are fairly old. So this is an opportunity for us to construct a power plant that’s more efficient and better for the environment.”

Gomez said AES is seeking approvals for a 1,040-megawatt natural gas-fired generator, which is larger than what the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has allowed Southern California Edison to operate at the site, to meet the potential need for more energy generation capacity in the future.

“We want to be ready for the potential for procurement should the state deem it necessary to have more [natural] gas generation to meet the region’s needs,” she said.

The Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, however, disputes AES’s claim that a larger natural gas-fired generator is needed, adding that “demand for energy has remained flat” as the public uses energy more efficiently through rooftop solar and other means.

In a mass email, wetlands land trust representatives urged the CEC to review “feasible alternatives” that won’t continue to degrade the wetlands habitat and to consider what the CPUC has already approved.

The CEC is expected to issue a final decision on the project in February or March. If approved, construction is expected to begin mid next year and be completed by December 2020, according to Gomez.

It remains uncertain whether the City of Long Beach will take over ownership of AES’s existing cooling pumps solely for the purposes of circulating water and preventing buildup of pollution in and around Alamitos Bay, she said, adding that the issue of water quality has yet to be resolved.



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