Living in California means power plants on the beach. It’s a fact of life driving up and down the coast. When you enter Los Angeles driving north there is a line of smokestacks so dense that some refer to it as “the apocalyptic city of the future.” Then as you enter San Diego driving south you pass along the “Betty Boop monument,” two giant domes with a small cap on top, which are the two nuclear generators of San Onofre.
They are all facing an uncertain future as California state law requires 33% renewable energy by 2020. Plus, an “upgrade law” which establishes higher standards for air pollution and environmental impact. That second law is the most far-reaching, and somewhat sneaky, because it directly attacks the existing power plants.
It forces all the existing plants to pay for expensive upgrades or be decommissioned, and many will be decommissioned.
As that happens you can see the future of energy in California start to take shape. 1 out of every 3 plants will be shut down and replaced by renewable energy. Another one-third will be upgraded, and the final third will be a mix. For Southern California that could mean nuclear energy, but it is more likely to be several lower-emission natural gas plants.
There is also a hope that renewable energy can take on up to half of the energy needs by 2020, but only time will tell.
To hit this point home, my local power plant, just a few miles away, is facing the decommission or upgrade dilemma. According to the owners, AES, the plant is a critical supplier in an ideal location so it won’t be shut down. The plant, a natural gas user, will be upgraded.
The plan they have put forward involves a much more modern set-up, including: replacing the industrial smokestack profile with an office building look, using air cooling instead of water (a big win for local ocean groups), much more efficient and powerful generators, quick start capabilities (from 12 hours to 10 minutes), and a reduced emission output.
For locals, like me, this is a partial win. We get rid of the ugly smokestacks and get cleaner energy, but still have a local plant giving off emissions and using fossil fuel.
The Orange County Register did a feature on what this change means for the community and the state – H.B. to lose landmark stacks for cleaner energy project
So, that image of driving along the California coast may soon change. Maybe those industrial smokestacks will turn into windmills, parks, or knowing how the state works, new million dollar homes.