AES Southland has declared its commitment to demolish steam generating units and stacks on Studebaker Road in Long Beach subsequent to replacing its existing nearly 60-year-old power plant with a new modernized facility.


The Long Beach City Council at its meeting on October 20 unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city and AES, detailing the city’s agreement to process permits for the company to demolish the existing structures.

Steam generating units and smoke stacks pictured here at AES Southland’s Alamitos power plant on Studebaker Road adjacent to the Los Cerritos Wetlands in Long Beach will be demolished once a new modernized facility is constructed. The modernization includes constructing a new Alamitos Energy Center, with combined-cycle gas turbine generators and a battery energy storage system. (Photograph provided by AES)


City officials said removing the stacks and steam generating units, which will occur after AES constructs a new, smaller state-of-the-art facility that may take several years to be completed if approved, would improve quality of life for residents and enhance the aesthetics of one of the city’s main entrance points.


Though AES has enough space at the site to leave the existing generating facility standing and is not required by the state to take it down, the power plant operator has voluntarily agreed to demolish the steam generators and stacks.


To comply with state mandates, AES proposes replacing its current 2,000-megawatt, natural-gas-fueled Alamitos power plant, which it purchased from Southern California Edison in 1998, with a cleaner and more efficient facility, no longer using ocean water for cooling steam generators, the company states.


The project comes after the California State Water Resources Control Board adopted rules five years ago mandating that power plants by 2020 cease the practice of using “once-through” cooling systems, which involve using ocean water to cool steam generators, because of the impact on marine life and habitats.


Two projects, which are undergoing a separate approval process from the demolition, involve constructing a new Alamitos Energy Center, with combined-cycle gas turbine generators, and building a battery energy storage system.


According to a fact sheet from AES, the new modernized energy center would integrate intermittent renewable energy, such as from wind and solar, into the state’s electrical grid. The facility would be able to start and stop in minutes rather than the 12 to 36 hours it takes the existing power plant.


The battery energy storage system is expected to be the biggest of its kind in the world, according to AES. The company anticipates that the new facility will provide “unmatched operational flexibility,” enabling the most efficient use of renewable energy resources, lowering costs and emissions while providing increased reliability to the grid.


The new energy center will help conserve natural resources by using less natural gas to produce the same amount of energy the old plant produces while being able to respond quickly to “smooth out” the supply of electricity when renewables, such as wind and solar energy, aren’t operating, according to AES.


AES has already submitted plans to the California Energy Commission for the energy center and battery energy storage system projects, projected to cost more than $1.3 billion. Both projects are expected to go through an extensive environmental review process.


Deputy City Manager Arturo Sanchez clarified during the meeting that the MOU refers only to the demolition of the existing steam generating units and stacks but does not relate to AES’s specific projects to modernize the facility that, he added, may ultimately include the City of Long Beach taking over ownership of AES’s cooling pumps.


According to a city staff report, staff is expected to come back with a separate MOU to address the “continued operation of Alamitos Bay pumps” after AES stops using the pumps for cooling as mandated by the state. City staff states that the city wants to take ownership of the pumps, as their continued operation is “beneficial for water circulation and water quality in and around Alamitos Bay.”


Rick Davis, spokesperson for AES, told the Business Journal that the pumps at the AES power plant currently serve a dual purpose of cooling the steam generators and circulating water in Alamitos Bay to prevent buildup of pollution.


The concern from the city is that, if the pumps are removed, then pollution may accumulate in the bay, creating poor water quality, he said. AES, however, has no plans nor is allowed to continue using the pumps for cooling generators. Davis said the new facility would use an internal radiator system, much like a car uses, to cool generators.


Sanchez confirmed at the meeting that city staff is conducting studies on issues related to the continuation of the pumps and there will be forthcoming opportunity for input from residents, experts and city officials on the subject.


Davis added that, during construction, AES will continue operating the existing Alamitos power plant, one of the largest electric generating plants in the region, to keep electricity running while the new modernized facility, expected to be half the size of the existing plant, is being built.