Natural Gas-Fueled Power Plants Are Sticking Around Long Beach for Now

Jon LeSage
THE BATTERY ENERGY STORAGE SYSTEM, located at the AES Alamitos power plant facility in Long Beach is one of the world’s largest battery storage facilities, according to the owner. Photo source: AES Corp.

While natural-gas fueled power plants might be somewhat cleaner than coal-powered plants, the state would like to transition over to renewables and other power sources that refrain from increasing greenhouse gas emissions. That’s taking longer than many had hoped for.

The State Water Resources Control Board last month voted to extend the use of natural gas to run three power plants through 2026, postponing a previous deadline set for the end of this year that would have stopped the gas-powered plants. One of them is AES Alamitos, the huge power plant facility located near the corner of 2nd Street and Studebaker Road in Long Beach.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom last year called for state agencies to keep the electric power grid operating as needed, including with fossil fuels, which drew many complaints from environmentalists and nearby communities who would like to have cleaner power plants to live by. The state is still dependent on keeping these large power plants operating for now to keep the grid running to avoid power outages.

The other two power plants are the Ormond Beach Generating Station in Oxnard, and AES Huntington Beach – which is highly visible for those driving down Pacific Coast Highway approaching Newland Street.

Ormand Beach Generating Station, which is operated by the GenOn power company, has the capacity to produce up to 1,491 megawatts (MW), according to Power Technology. AES Alamitos is a 1,040 MW combined-cycle electric generating station, and AES Huntington Beach is a 840 MW facility with a 640 MW combined-cycle and two simple-cycle turbines that produce 200 MW, according to California Energy Commission.

The AES Corporation, a Fortune 500 global energy company based in Arlington, Va., years ago took over ownership of the Long Beach and Huntington Beach power plants. The company bought the Long Beach plant from Southern California Edison (SCE) in 1998, and acquired the Huntington Beach plant in two different deals, one section in 1998 and another in 2001, from SCE.

One of the goals has been to get these power plants off seawater cooling systems, which have their own share of problems for sea life and air quality – and operation and durability of the power turbines. That’s come through converting over parts of the old plants to air-cooled generators, which is much better than running ocean water through the generators and then sending it back out – which in Long Beach is dumped into the San Gabriel River.

Environmentalists and local residents would like to see more of these upgrades. That would, of course, include a complete switch over to renewable energy to speed up emission reduction efforts and to get rid of the stench and gritty particles that go with how these old power plants – built originally in the 1950s – had been operating.

AES Alamitos Has Giant Energy Storage System

AES has also invested in the Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) at the Long Beach power plant. That came from winning a contract with SCE after the San Onofre nuclear plant had to be shut down for safety and environmental reasons. SEC selected AES to provide the energy storage system with its capacity for 400 megawatt-hours (MWh) that can store 100 MW of energy.

It uses lithium batteries to store the energy. Utilities and government officials want to see more of these storage systems set up in California to provide clean energy when it’s needed. That way, the state doesn’t have to depend on fossil fuels such as natural gas to provide for the demand (aka, “peak capacity”) that goes over what clean energy can produce on any given day.

AES describes it as “the first time in history energy storage was recognized and relied on as a peak capacity resource on par with natural gas.”

The company also says it ties into the state’s ambitious goal to power 100% of its electricity with carbon-free energy by 2045. Energy experts say that having enough energy storage capability will be a vital part of making renewable energy work – solar, wind, and other clean energy sources, must have battery technology that can store the power and provide it to utilities during periods of peak demand.

Natural Gas the Norm in Long Beach

As for now, natural gas power plants are what you see in Long Beach. They provide power to homes and businesses in the city and the surrounding area, with SCE being the major client. However, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP) is another one.

That’s the old Haynes plant that you see on 2nd Street soon before the street transitions into Westminster Street. It has 1,867 MW capacity, according to LADWP.

A little over a decade ago, LADWP partnered with South Coast Air Quality Management District and the cities of Long Beach and Seal Beach to get out of the process of relying on ocean water to cool the power plants. Bringing in six 100-MW fast-start natural gas combustion turbines was a step forward to meet periods of peak demand and to move away from the problems of relying on seawater, LADWP said.

Another significant power plant in the city is the Long Beach Generating Station located at 2665 W. Seaside Blvd. That 252 MW natural-gas powered plant was owned by NRG Energy, Inc. In 2021, that plant was sold to Generation Bridge, a subsidiary of ArcLight Energy Partners Fund.

THUMS Long Beach Co., owned by Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell, has a small gas-powered plant capable of 57.4 MW. It’s located near the port over on Pier Street.

Jon LeSage is a resident of Long Beach and a veteran business media reporter and editor. You can reach him at jtlesage1@yahoo.com.

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