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L.A. is replacing its largest gas plant with green hydrogen



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The Los Angeles Metropolis Council voted unanimously Wednesday to maneuver ahead with an $800-million plan to transform the town’s largest gas-fired energy plant to inexperienced hydrogen — a first-of-its-kind undertaking that was hailed by supporters as an vital step to resolve the local weather disaster however slammed by critics as a greenwashing boondoggle that may hurt susceptible communities.

Council President Paul Krekorian described hydrogen as essential to assembly L.A.’s aim of 100% clean electricity by 2035.

“It was broadly seen as being an not possible aim. And we’re now on the precipice of attaining that,” he mentioned.

The vote approved the L.A. Division of Water and Energy to start the contracting course of for revamping Scattergood Producing Station, which sits alongside the coast close to El Segundo.

DWP plans to put in generators able to burning important portions of hydrogen, which has by no means been achieved earlier than on such a big scale. The gas could be produced from water, with renewable electrical energy — from photo voltaic panels or wind generators, for example — splitting H2O molecules into hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

Town-run utility hopes to finally convert its different fuel vegetation to hydrogen as properly: Harbor and Haynes farther down the coast, and Valley Producing Station in Solar Valley. These services wouldn’t be fired up usually, however they might assist Los Angeles maintain the lights on throughout instances when there’s not sufficient photo voltaic and wind energy to go round, similar to hot summer nights.

Town’s final aim is burning 100% inexperienced hydrogen — however DWP officers have acknowledged the expertise won’t be prepared straight away. Which means the preliminary gas combine at Scattergood may embody extra planet-warming pure fuel than hydrogen.

Jason Rondou, DWP’s director of useful resource planning, informed The Occasions that Scattergood ought to have the ability to burn at the very least 30% inexperienced hydrogen on Day One — the identical proportion the utility is concentrating on at its coal-fired Intermountain Power Plant in Utah.

“There’s plenty of issues that must be found out over the approaching years,” Rondou mentioned.

That uncertainty helps clarify why many local weather and environmental justice activists opposed Wednesday’s Metropolis Council movement.

A smokestack at Scattergood Generating Station near El Segundo.

A smokestack at Scattergood Producing Station close to El Segundo.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Occasions)

In public feedback earlier than the vote, critics from teams together with Communities for a Higher Atmosphere, Pacoima Lovely and the Sierra Membership famous that though hydrogen doesn’t produce planet-warming carbon emissions when burned, it does generate lung-damaging nitrogen oxide air pollution — much more than fuel, at the very least utilizing present expertise.

That’s particularly problematic for low-income communities of shade which have already suffered from years of fossil gas air pollution — like these round DWP’s Valley Producing Station, the place residents had been pressured to stay with a years-long methane leak.

Jasmin Vargas, an organizer with Meals and Water Watch, described hydrogen as “basically racist and inequitable.” She additionally objected to public feedback from labor union and enterprise leaders saying hydrogen would create good-paying jobs.

“The roles that everyone’s speaking about usually are not clear vitality jobs,” she mentioned.

Different activists pointed to the chance of explosions from hydrogen leaks and to analysis finding that hydrogen can worsen local weather change within the quick time period if an excessive amount of of it leaks from pipelines earlier than it’s burned. Additionally they raised the chance that DWP’s experimental inexperienced hydrogen undertaking might fail, leaving L.A. caught burning pure fuel when the town as a substitute might have invested extra closely in battery storage, vitality effectivity and different methods to ditch fossil fuels whereas maintaining the lights on.

“DWP ought to return to the drafting board,” mentioned Theo Caretto, a UCLA authorized fellow at Communities for a Higher Atmosphere.

After listening to from opponents and supporters, the council voted 12 to 0 to maneuver ahead with the hydrogen plan — however solely after approving a separate motion that newly elected Councilmembers Traci Park and Katy Younger Yaroslavsky mentioned would require DWP officers to extra carefully look at alternate options and extra robustly have interaction with communities close to the fuel plant.

“Even with the extra oversight, safeguards and engagement, I’m nonetheless very reluctant to vote to maneuver this undertaking ahead,” Yaroslavsky mentioned earlier than the vote. “Nonetheless, I’m prepared to help permitting the method to maneuver to the subsequent stage in order that we are able to all collectively collect extra info and perceive its dangers and its alternate options.”

It’s not but clear, although, whether or not the Metropolis Council would have the ability to cease the Scattergood conversion if one thing went awry — prices spiraling uncontrolled, for example, or an incapacity by DWP to scale back nitrogen oxide air pollution from burning hydrogen.

Additional steps within the contracting course of have to be authorized by the DWP board, whose members are appointed by the mayor. The Metropolis Council can override these choices — however solely with 10 supporting votes from the 15-member council, a excessive bar to clear.

Los Angeles City Hall

A view of Los Angeles Metropolis Corridor on Jan. 19.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Occasions)

In 2021, L.A. bought one-quarter of its electrical energy from pure fuel — a serious contributor to the worsening fires, droughts and warmth waves of the local weather disaster. Fuel utilization on California’s energy grid as a complete was even larger, at 38% — roughly the identical because the nation total.

Inexperienced hydrogen has emerged within the U.S. and around the globe as a possible substitute for pure fuel on the electrical grid — in addition to fuel piped to properties for heating and cooking. It’s one in all many comparatively high-cost applied sciences competing to enrich low-cost photo voltaic panels, wind generators and battery storage to zero out international local weather air pollution by midcentury.

Many local weather activists do see a job for hydrogen — however largely in “arduous to affect” industries the place switching from soiled fuels to scrub electrical energy is anticipated to be too costly, similar to delivery, aviation, steelmaking and doubtlessly long-haul trucking. These activists’ most popular expertise is hydrogen fuel cells, which produce no air pollution and can power heavy-duty trucks.

Activists are additionally cautious as a result of the overwhelming majority of hydrogen at present in use globally is produced from fossil fuels, including to the local weather disaster. The renewable “electrolysis” technique for producing hydrogen deliberate by DWP is costlier and fewer environment friendly.

Including to the skepticism over inexperienced hydrogen is that its loudest proponents are sometimes fossil gas firms.

In Los Angeles, that will be Southern California Fuel Co., the nation’s largest fuel utility. Final yr, the corporate proposed Angeles Hyperlink, a large and doubtlessly profitable pipeline that will carry inexperienced hydrogen gas to the L.A. Basin.

“It permits California to dramatically advance its local weather and environmental targets,” SoCalGas President Maryam Brown mentioned on the time. “It creates a cornerstone for the California inexperienced hydrogen financial system, and the hydrogen financial system typically.”

“Southern California Fuel is an infrastructure firm. And we use that infrastructure to have the ability to meet prospects’ wants,” she added. “Prospects’ wants are altering. We see our prospects needing cleaner and cleaner fuels.”

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In an e mail forward of the Metropolis Council’s vote Wednesday, SoCalGas spokesperson Chris Gilbride mentioned firm executives “haven’t been engaged, and are at present not engaged, on the Scattergood undertaking.”

However there’s little query it could possibly be a boon for SoCalGas, fueling demand for the corporate’s proposed pipeline and doubtlessly resulting in extra widespread use of hydrogen.

Federal {dollars} might additionally speed up L.A.’s hydrogen plans. The Metropolis Council voted final yr to use for a share of $8 billion in federal “hydrogen hub” funds, allotted by Congress as a part of the bipartisan infrastructure invoice signed by President Biden in 2021.

Whether or not or not that cash materializes, DWP’s Rondou mentioned Los Angeles has little alternative however to wager on hydrogen.

“We definitely checked out all of the completely different pathways to get to 100%” clear vitality, he mentioned, referring to an in-depth study performed with the Nationwide Renewable Power Laboratory. “However the research was clear. … There wasn’t another.”