HomeCity Government NewsWith New Engines, Grayson Will Keep City’s Lights On

With New Engines, Grayson Will Keep City’s Lights On

First published in the Dec. 17 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.

By Alexandra Applegate
Glendale News-Press

In its last regular meeting of 2022, City Council voted to replace Glendale’s Grayson Power Plant turbines with three new natural gas-powered Wartsila engines despite the city’s goal to rely solely on clean energy by 2035.
The estimated $260-million project could be the last gas-using plant constructed in California, since the state is requiring 100% clean energy by 2045.
Despite the Glendale Water & Power staff’s recommendation that the council approve the construction of five engines, the council on Tuesday landed on three after weighing whether that many could supply enough energy to keep the lights on in Glendale during emergencies.
“By repowering Grayson, we’ll have the ability to reach the peak demand,” said Councilwoman Paula Devine. “And by continuing our development to procure more solar capacity, we can provide that green energy.”
This latest vote, which came down to 4-1, is the culmination of years of planning and debating how to “repower” Grayson — or to do so at all — because of its aging and inefficient infrastructure. Additionally, the South Coast Air Quality Management District required the city to retrofit or replace the current gas-powered units at Grayson to meet new emissions standards by the end of 2023.
An initial plan from 2017 proposed refurbishing the plant to provide up to 262 megawatts of power, more than twice what the city needs on an average day. That was rejected by city officials for its scale.
Another vote to invest in natural gas-fired generators at Grayson was delayed in 2019 after climate and environmental activists called for the council to look for greener, cheaper alternatives. Then, in February, the council voted to proceed with other aspects of the Grayson Repowering Project but decided to wait to purchase any Wartsila engines until the end of this year.
With the three new engines, the plant will have a capacity of 56 MW, allowing for a backup during extremely hot days or emergencies like wildfires. The city also previously agreed to add a 73-MW battery energy storage system, which is large for a city of 200,000 residents such as Glendale.
The three Wartsila engines are meant to offer an efficient and flexible operation. They won’t run all the time but will be turned on and off as needed, within the engines’ limitations. (When the engines are inactive, the city will use energy from its other sources.) Each engine is capped at 225 hours of use in any given month and 1,120 hours in a year.
“I think of it as a new car that turns itself off during a red light,” said GWP General Manager Mark Young. “This is a perfect opportunity to be able to utilize this engine for the variability of solar and any of the wind we get in our system.”
GWP has maintained throughout the duration of this project that the city will need at least five engines to ensure it can deliver the amount of energy required by the California Energy Commission, avoid blackouts during times of peak demand and store electricity in reserves.
During a brief period in 2017, Glendale experienced a record-setting peak demand of 346 MW, more than three times the city’s average electrical demand of about 110 MW. With climate change bringing more frequent and worse extreme heat as well as the city’s ongoing efforts to electrify solely through renewable energy — cemented in the council’s decision to require all new buildings be powered by such electricity last month — the peak demand will likely grow each year.
GWP predicted the city’s peak load could range from 398 to 456 MW by 2027.
“Glendale Water & Power would be unable to meet our system obligations and our customer obligations at peak load with only three Wartsila engines,” said utility Assistant General Manager Scott Mellon.
But Councilman Daniel Brotman pushed back on this assumption, as did several residents during public comment.
“The peaks really can be managed,” Brotman said. In reference to a presentation given to the council last week, Brotman cited a number of ways the city could look to reduce demand during crucial times through dynamic pricing, time-of-use rates and demand response programs.
In addition, GWP’s forecasting did not include some of the new, energy-efficient projects in the city’s pipeline and factored in creating 25 MW of clean, locally distributed energy resources, or small-scale generation units like rooftop solar panels that connect to an electric grid.
Currently, the city has secured only three MW of distributed energy resources. And a recent attempt to receive proposals from contractors on securing up to 50 MW resulted in two qualified bids that identified only nine potential megawatts in the city.
However, finding more creative ways to develop clean energy is a priority for the council. Brotman insisted it would be a “failure” if the city achieved only 25 MW of distributed energy resources by 2027, with hopes that the city can double that.
“I really had hoped we’d go for no new gas, and it pains me to participate in a vote to purchase new gas engines,” said Brotman, who ran for council largely on a promise to create an eco-friendly city. “But three Wartsila [engines] works. I don’t think zero Wartsila engines work. It doesn’t get us where we need to go.”
Councilman Ara Najarian, however, wanted to approve the recommended five engines. He pointed out that Glendale has limited transmission capabilities to bring in power from external cities or sources, a situation that he fears could plunge the city into blackouts and shortages if it doesn’t produce enough on its own.
“Glendale is different from any other city. We are an island,” Najarian said. “We can’t just bring in the electricity from the clean sources that other locale can.”
On the other hand, Councilwoman Elen Asatryan, who was the only no vote, did not want to approve any engines. She said it was “fiscally irresponsible” to invest in infrastructure that will soon be obsolete.
“I believe our residents deserve better and I think we can make a better commitment to our environment, what we build and what we put our money toward,” Asatryan said.
Ultimately, Brotman brought forth the motion to vote for three engines, which Najarian voted for reluctantly. In the end, each member of the council emphasized their commitment to transitioning completely to clean energy in the coming years, despite approving three gas-powered engines.
“We have to continue, vigorously, to employ recommendations and find every avenue to reach 100% renewables by 2035,” Devine said. “No doubt about it. And I think the whole council feels the same way.”
GWP will now work to decommission the current infrastructure at Grayson and remove equipment, as well as begin the research and design process.

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