The South Bay Parkland Conservancy is advocating to get rid of the Redondo Beach Power Plant

When Redondo Beach residents look out over their coastline, they are met with views of the Applied Energy Service (AES) Corporation power plant. The South Bay Parkland Conservancy (SBPC) is advocating for its removal, leading up to a final decision to be made in October 2021.

The California Water Board mandated that power plants, with a once-through cooling system, such as the AES power plant, begin to phase out in 2010. Despite this, the AES power plant, built in 1954, has been continuously extended as an emergency power facility, and still remains today. In power plants, the once-through cooling system means that it intakes water, runs it through the power plant as a cooling mechanism, and releases the water back into the larger body (in this case, the ocean) at a higher temperature. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), “[b]oth the water intake and thermal discharge can affect local aquatic wildlife.”

Senior Michael Lee is the RUHS Student Ambassador to SBPC and helps raise student engagement in volunteering and their projects. To Lee, it is “insane” that the plant is still present over 10 years after its removal being voted on.

“It’s polluting our air and pumping lots of carbon emissions into the air. It’s also killing marine life since it’s right by the ocean. A non-essential complaint is the noise it makes. People living around it or even blocks away can hear it when it operates or when it’s trying to power up because it takes more than 24 hours. And, it’s an eyesore,” Lee said.

SBPC President Jacob Varvarigos says SBPC was formed in 2004, before he was president, “on the intent to see that the land on which the power plant is built will one day become a community park and resource.” Varvarigos recognizes that it is a big task to remove it, but ultimately believes it is important.

“It’s important to community members that we preserve our open space, and the land that the AES power plant occupies is a huge park opportunity. In fact, it’s one of the largest in the region as far as size and scope,” Varvarigos said. “What that area could provide our region, as far as recreation space, native habitat and commercial is truly an opportunity that is worth fighting for.”

Though it is worth it, according to Varvarigos, he recognizes why it can be hard to convince people to join the cause.

“One challenge is you see this huge monolithic structure, as if it can never go away, as if it was always there, how impossible the task to remove it is and how daunting the idea is to have it gone,” Varvarigos said. “I think most people think that it is impossible and that it can never happen, so that from the start dissuades them from trying.” 

In addition, according to Lee, Governor Gavin Newsom’s recall makes the removal even harder to push through, as Newsom worries that California will go into a complete electricity shutdown and thus has called for all power plants to exist as emergency backup.

“California has been experiencing a lot of heat waves recently, and that’s been cutting out our power, causing a lot of areas in California to have complete blackouts,” Lee said. “So, the company can say, ‘you guys need our power plant to generate the electricity.’”

Though present as an emergency power facility, the power plant takes 12 to 24 hours to power up, causing the SBPC to question its necessity and usefulness in an emergency.

“Edison [the primary electricity supply company for much of Southern California] can tell this power plant to come online so it can generate electricity, but it takes more than 12–24 hours to come online,” Lee said. “On top of that, the electricity it produces doesn’t even go to Redondo Beach. It goes to other cities. In addition, because all its parts are so old, you can sometimes see that when the smoke comes out, it’s only coming out of one pipe, because half the other ones are just non-operational.” 

The removal of the AES power plant is supported by most of the Redondo Beach City Council, CA representative Ted Lieu, CA Assemblyman Al Muratsuch and CA Senator Ben Allen. The barrier, according to Lee, is both the company having the final say and “outspoken individuals.”

“There have been opposition groups to our organization because though we’re nonprofit, we still get grants from the city to do our projects,” Lee said. “As soon as people start seeing money coming into an organization, they start questioning if it’s really necessary or if it’s even proper for the city council to do such a thing.”

SBPC has been advocating since 2004, but more recently started a petition in  because according to Lee, “if [AES] sees that the citizens are so publicly outspoken against them, then they’re going to start losing partners and funding.” Lee, who hopes to “leave an environmental impact” in his last year at RUHS, does work to gain publicity.

“All throughout registration week, I ran a table with the picture of the smoke spewing out of the power plant on the table and for the people who did walk up, I would tell them what our [SBPC’s] efforts are with the power plant and such. I’ve gone around on websites like Nextdoor and Patch where you can talk with other neighbors, and tried to tell them about what we’re doing with the power plant and gain their support,” Lee said.

Although the petition, “Shut Down Redondo Beach AES power plant,” has gained over 1,000 signatures, it still won’t turn the tables if they wait until October, according to Varvarigos, who says that right now “we’re in a state of limbo” in terms of its removal. 

“We shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that this isn’t a long-term effort. It’s going to take many years and it’s hard to put a time frame on that, so that’s why it’s daunting,” Varvarigos said.

Despite the intimidation factor, Varvarigos maintains that SBPC represents the local community and that “there’s a lot of committed people who are willing to come together.” To students looking to make an impact, SBPC as an organization hopes to be open to these ideas.

“Come up with your idea and submit your concept. Find out what’s important to you in your own community, because once you start getting curious about your own neighborhood, you start seeing things and seeing opportunities,” Varvarigos said. “It just takes passionate people to come together.”