Steve O'Kane on AES Power Plant

Steve O'Kane, AES manager of sustainability and regulatory compliance, explains how the new Long Beach plant will work without using ocean water.

In the face of news reports that Los Angeles plans to eventually shut down its gas-fired power plants, AES Alamitos is forging ahead with a new $900 million generating facility on Studebaker Road.

The new air-cooled generators will be completed later this year. They will be able to generate 1,040 megawatts of electricity, and replace the six ocean water-cooled generators on that site now.

A battery storage facility will start construction later this year. The site is about 70 acres east of the I-405-I-605-State Highway 22 interchange, across Studebaker Road from University Park Estates and Los Cerritos Wetlands.

"Regarding LA, there's a ‘rest of the story' that hasn't been clear," Stephen O'Kane, vice president, AES Alamitos Energy, LLC., said. "They already have six air-cooled units at Haynes, and the one water-cooled unit is permitted until 2029.

"And the situation there is different than here. LA is essentially its own grid, while we are on a regional grid. We need to be able to generate electricity here to level out and meet demand."

O'Kane has helped shepherd the project through since permitting began in 2014. AES Alamitos also is permitted for a second, 640-megawatt generator, but has no plans to build that at this time.

Alamitos always has been used as a peaker plant, adding electricity to the system when demand is high. It's primary customer is Southern California Edison, and SCE already is contracted for the power available from the new generators.

A major incentive for building the new plants is environmental. The state government has mandated the end of ocean water-cooled plants, with 2024 and 2029 deadlines, because of the environmental damage caused by the water returned to the ocean.

Advanced technology now makes it possible to cool the gas-fired generators with air through giant "air filter" units. Steam to turn the turbines is generated with potable water, which is recycled multiple times.

Operating environment and aesthetics were another incentive to modernize. The new plant is quieter when running, and eliminates the roar sometimes heard from Alamitos now when a "blow-off" of steam occurs. And the current 200-foot exhaust towers will be eliminated, with the new plant rising just higher than 100 feet.

Finally, the new generators can be up to speed and generating electricity in minutes instead of the hours the current plant takes. Once the battery facility is added, AES will be able to supply the local area with electricity almost instantly when necessary.

"This is all about reliability," O'Kane said. "Do we have enough electricity regionally? Yes. But is it in the right spot? We're in what's called a transmission constrained area, and we need to be able to generate here to meet demand."

Construction over the last two years has employed as many as 600 people on site. The primary contractor, Kiewit Construction, has its own complex of offices on site. Including planning, engineering and permits, the entire project will cost about $1.3 billion when it's done, O'Kane said. It would have been more, but AES is building a similar plant at Huntington Beach at the same time, and the projects are able to share some costs.

"We're on time and on budget," O'Kane said. "We have a firm date for startup of Oct. 3, 2019. And we'll meet that."

For more information about the project and AES Alamitos, go to www.renewaesalamitos.com.

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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