Anaheim: Pulling the Plug on a New Power Plant

The Anaheim Chamber of Commerce is continuing its full court press objecting to a new power plant being proposed on Orange County Water District owned land near Angel Stadium.  The OCWD is set to vote on a long term lease of the surplus Ball Road Basin next week.

The lease came about through an unsolicited bid from the power company.  OCWD has never put this property out to bid and is not considering other offers on the parcel.

The proposed plant is a private venture and would sell exactly zero kilowatt hours to the Anaheim Public Utility.  Instead, the private company would sell electricity at premium peak electric rates to SoCal Edison.  The demand for the construction is a bit convoluted, but in short, state environmental regulations are requiring the closure of major gas fueled power plants (i.e., this has absolutely nothing to do with San Onofre) and we’re already maxing out our ability to import power over high voltage lines through mountain passes leading out of the LA basin.  This means we have to replace the local power we’re shutting down with new local power plants.

Public objection to this project has been consistent and vocal, with the Chamber leading the charge.  This evening, the CoC issued the following press release:

Last Minute Claims Made By Water Official Regarding Power Plant Being Questioned
States Rate Would Go Down If Power Plant With 90 Feet Stacks Is Approved Next to Homes and Restaurants

ANAHEIM, Calif. (December 6, 2013) — Today the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce submitted a request under the California Public Records Act to obtain a copy the Water Rate Study that was conducted related to a proposed 300-600 Megawatt Power Plant along the Santa Ana River on in the city of Anaheim.  The request was prompted by comments made by the Orange County Water District’s General Manager Michael Markus at Tuesday’s Fullerton City Council meeting.  Mr. Markus stated that rate would be lower, as much as 10 percent, if the Water District were to approve the power plant lease.

“We were surprised to see that Orange County Water District staff now claim that rates would definitely go down if they approve a power planton Monday.  He indicated the rate would go down between five to 10 percent. We find it very questionable that given all the opposition to the lease, that now just a few days before the scheduled vote, he would make such a claim,” said Todd Ament, president and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. “Water rate studies are typically conducted prior to any suggested rate adjustment, so it’s important that our community have an opportunity to review the study Mr. Markus used to make such a statement.”

The Orange County Water District is expected to vote on a potential long-term lease on land that they own, which would allow an out-of state company to build and operate a power plant along Ball Road bordering the cities of Anaheim and Orange.  The proposed site is within 985 feet of a residential neighborhood in Anaheim, and less than 1,000 feet away from the Stadium Promenade in the city of Orange. The Stadium Promenade consists of a multi-screen movie theater and several restaurants including Kings Fish House, Prime Cut and the Lazy Dog Restaurant.

“Opposition to the power plant lease continues to expand,” said Ament. “Just this week Assembly Members Travis Allen, Tom Daly, Diane Harkey, Sharon Quirk-Silva and Don Wagner joined State Senators Lou Correa and Bob Huff in expressing their oppositions. We are hopeful that the voting members of the water district will reject this unsolicited proposal.”

The Chamber has it right . . . on this one  This proposed plant is a poor fit for this site and the OCWD has no business entertaining a long term land deal without issuing an RFP.  Considering Anaheim has made it known that they’re willing to purchase the property outright, turning down a large chunk of capital now to improve our water infrastructure in favor of structured lease payments seems a bit . . . wait for it . . . shocking.  Accepting this lease amounts to nothing more than burdening Anaheim residents with a tax.  It’s their neighborhood that will pay the price of hosting this plant, yet those same neighborhoods receive nothing . . . NOTHING in return for their public investment.  While it’s great to hear that OCWD customers in Lake Forest will see a rate cut as a result of this project, it isn’t right that park starved Anaheim residents get to pay more of their time and space to make that happen.

I sympathize with the aesthetic objections or even concerns with emissions from the power plant stacks, but what I’m most perplexed with is why no one is discussing the safety implications of storing massive ammonia tanks in a rather dense urban environment.  A thousand feet isn’t exactly a lot of space for an accidental vapor cloud to travel.

The proposed plant will be fueled by natural gas and converted to electricity using what’s essentially a big jet engine.  Like all combustion engines, it produces smog.  Lots of it.

Part of the plant’s design includes a Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) unit.  Like the catalytic converter on your car, it coverts the smog producing elements of the turbine exhaust (NOx) into less harmful waste.  To do this, the SCR needs lots and lots of ammonia.

These tanks are massive and the ammonia stored in them is bad news.  How bad?  Well, earlier this year, a leak at a refrigeration plant in China killed 15.

I’d hazard to guess that the leak in China involved anhydrous ammonia and this plant would use safer aqueous ammonia . . . but I sure wouldn’t want to live a few football fields away from a tank.  But really, that’s a guess.  I don’t know what they’re using.  Perhaps it is the really nasty stuff involved in the incident in China.  I doubt it, but it could be– the point is no one, for good reason, wants to be anywhere near these tanks.

Still, what I find even more troubling is that the private company proposing this power plant wants to build soccer fields adjacent to the giant ammonia tanks as part of a pitch to sweeten the deal.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sending my kids to play soccer next door to an industrial grade toxin.  I mean, you’d think these folks would know that ammonia + kids = not good . . . It’d be like building a gun range and constructing a school next door.  I don’t care how thick the wall is, that’s just stupid.

That seems like way too big of a risk for the district to take on.

Let’s hope they focus more on improving our access to local water supplies and less on building soccer fields next to giant tanks painted with the big red letters D-A-N-G-E-R.


About Ryan Cantor

Our conservative columnist, raised in North Orange County, works as an auditor.