LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will announce Tuesday that the city is abandoning a plan to spend billions of dollars rebuilding three natural gas power plants along the coast, according to environmental groups who have been briefed on the mayor's decision.
Garcetti's move would mark an abrupt change of course for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, where top staff has argued in recent months that the gas plants are critical to keeping the lights on in the city. Environmental groups have urged DWP to replace the aging facilities with cleaner alternatives, saying the gas-fired plants need to go because they contribute to climate change and local air pollution.
It wasn't immediately clear what Garcetti would say about DWP's plans for replacing the fossil-fueled power plants. The mayor's office declined to comment.
Activists have argued the city should invest in solar power, battery storage and energy efficiency to reduce the need for the gas-burning generators as part of California's push to eliminate the use of planet-warming fossil fuels.
The environmental groups Food and Water Watch and the Sierra Club both said Monday afternoon that the mayor's office had informed them of Garcetti's plan to announce that the gas plants will not be rebuilt.
Alexandra Nagy, a senior organizer with Food and Water Watch, said Garcetti is "showing the rest of the country what a Green New Deal can mean for our communities," referring to the sweeping climate change policies championed by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y) and endorsed by several contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"We are hopeful that this is a first step to swiftly transition L.A. off fossil fuels and move the city to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030," Nagy said in a statement. "It's time to clean up our air, prioritize health communities and green jobs, and usher in a clean energy revolution."
Los Angeles is under state orders to shutter 10 gas-fired generating units at the Scattergood, Harbor and Haynes power plants that use ocean water for cooling, a process that can harm marine life.
DWP management recently signaled support for replacing at least some of those generators with newer, more efficient machines equipped with dry-cooling technology that doesn't use ocean water.
The utility's top energy managers have said that batteries charged with solar or wind power aren't yet cheap or reliable enough to replace the gas plants, without increasing the risk of power outages among the 4 million people served by the DWP.
A team of consultants hired by the city-run utility had recommended rebuilding seven of the 10 ocean-cooled units, and replacing the other three with a combination of energy storage, solar power and energy efficiency.
That plan faced pushback from environmental activists and also from one of Garcetti's appointees to the DWP's board of commissioners, Aura Vasquez. At a board meeting last month, Vasquez pressed utility staff to look beyond gas plants and embrace batteries and other new technologies as a means of providing reliable power.
"We are in uncharted territories. I get it. We are in a new era. We are headed to renewables that some might view as unreliable," Vasquez said. "I'm trying to figure out how to reinvent the way that we do business."
Some of the sharpest criticism of the city's plans came from S. David Freeman, a former DWP general manager who has led public power agencies across the country and advised presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter on energy. At the same board meeting last month, the 93-year-old, cowboy-hat-wearing industry veteran accused DWP officials of ignoring the real and growing costs of climate change.
"This is public power. You're the voice of the people," said Freeman, who now works with environmental groups to advocate for renewable energy. "And I think that any poll of the people of Los Angeles reveals that they want you to pay real real good attention to the climate issue, and not be what I would call an 'intelligent denier,' which is what you are if you don't take the actions that the climatologists say we must take."
"It's not a question of wanting to or it being convenient," he added. "It's just as important as keeping the lights on and keeping the rates down."
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