City Council gets power plant pitch

By BOB WILSON Valley Press Staff Writer

PALMDALE - Building an electric power plant in the city could keep local power available and electricity costs down while generating income for City Hall and using up a portion of the sewage water being dumped in the desert by the city’s Sanitation District, proponents said Monday. Members of the City Council heard, but made no decision, on a suggestion to hire a consulting firm to help Palmdale with development of a 500-megawatt electricity-generating facility.

“Power is a very, very important part of our future, and I’ve got to tell you that being able to control our destiny to some degree … is an exciting opportunity"

“Power is a very, very important part of our future, and I’ve got to tell you that being able to control our destiny to some degree … is an exciting opportunity,” Mayor Jim Ledford said at the conclusion of the presentation. The firm, Inland Energy Inc., could help the city apply for and obtain the permits needed for the development of such a plant, said Steve Williams, Palmdale’s assistant city manager of community development. Those permits could cost $5.5 million, but in two years could be worth as much as $20 million, said Inland’s executive vice president, Thomas Barnett.

The city could opt to sell those permits and all rights to the facility to someone willing to build and operate the plant, Williams said. The city also would have the option to negotiate with an owner-operator to retain a percentage of the profits, retain a percentage of the output for protection during shortages, or to keep rates down for residents and businesses like the aerospace contractors at Plant 42, who compete with contracts for job-producing projects, the assistant city manager said.

“There are other options possible that would be of great benefit to the city of Palmdale,” Williams said. After listening to the company’s presentation, Williams was asked to return to the council with the terms of a possible contract between the city and Inland. In his presentation to the council, Barnett noted that the demand for electricity in California could outstrip the state’s supply as soon as next summer. The proposed plant would consist of two combustion turbines, similar to jet engines, that would generate electricity using natural gas. The exhaust from each turbine would be used to heat water into steam, which would power a second power-producing turbine, thereby producing twice as much electricity from a single fuel consumption.

The water-cooled plant would require about 20 acres of land and about 2.2 million gallons of water a day, Barnett said. That water could come from Palmdale’s Sanitation District 20, which produces about 9.5 million gallons of waste water each day and can generate up to 15 million gallons a day, he said. District 20 has been ordered to clean up excess nitrates that have seeped into the ground as a result of dumping secondary-treated waste water on land owned by the airport department of the city of Los Angeles, or Los Angeles World Airports.

The district also faces a November 2009 deadline to demonstrate it can remain in compliance with waste-water discharge requirements set by state water officials. The state’s major public power companies plan to retire a number of aging plants, which will cost more in lost power than new plants under construction will replace, Barnett continued. Shoring up a power supply is critical for fast-growing cities like Palmdale, where it costs, on average, seven times more to keep a 1,700-square-foot home cooled in the summer than it costs in Long Beach, Barnett said.

Palmdale could take advantage of new regulations adopted two years ago via Assembly Bill 217, which established Community Choice Aggregation. The regulations “allow communities to aggregate power for their citizens and businesses and supply that power to their local utility, such as Southern California Edison,” Barnett said. Such an approach “does not require a municipal utility to be formed because the power is distributed by, in this case, Southern California Edison; the building is done by Southern California Edison; and the money for the power supplied by the aggregator - in this case, the city of Palmdale - would flow back to the city,” he said. The city also could form its own company “and provide power directly to selected users as a municipal utility,” Barnett said.

If a decision to move forward can be obtained in about 30 days, the permits for a 500-megawatt plant could be obtained by the fall of 2007, he said. One megawatt is enough electricity to power about 750 typical homes. A 500-megawatt plant could supply enough power for 375,000 homes. Palmdale is expected to grow from a population of 136,734 to 450,000 in the coming 15 years, Barnett said.

Construction of a single 500-megawatt plant will barely meet the needs of those homes, not including any new industrial or commercial growth, he said.“We are firm believers that the high desert, with the level of growth seen, is going to absorb this power plant, one in Victorville and others,” Barnett said.