California’s Last Gas Plant Falters as Community Opposition Makes Way for Clean Energy

Glendale, California, made history on July 23 when it cast aside the last proposed gas plant in the state, choosing clean energy projects over rebuilding the Grayson gas plant. Grayson was one of the dirtiest gas plants in an environmental justice community in the fifth-largest economy in the world. Now that the state is done building fossil fuel power plants, we must continue the trend and prioritize environmental justice communities as we get off of gas.

The three-year campaign led by the Glendale Environmental Coalition, the Sierra Club, and Earthjustice culminated on July 10: More than 400 residents rallied in front of City Hall, and close to 100 residents showed up before the City Council two weeks later on the day of the vote. Then it happened. On Tuesday, July 23, the Glendale City Council voted to move forward with several clean energy projects instead of gas. After hours of public comment from residents who spoke passionately about why the aging Grayson Power Plant should not be rebuilt and run for decades to come, the City of Glendale is now on the path to get to 100% clean energy by 2030. 

The recommendation before the City Council in July was starkly different than in 2017, when Glendale Water and Power (GWP) sought the City Council’s approval to rebuild and expand the aging Grayson power plant to 262 megawatts (MW). The 2017 proposal was a needlessly large, expensive ($500m) power plant that exceeded Glendale’s energy use of less than 200 MW for nearly 95% of the year. Due to community concerns about climate, rising electric bills, and air pollution, the City Council voted to postpone the power plant proposal and instead issue a competitive solicitation for clean energy alternatives. For nearly 18 months, GWP worked with stakeholders to develop and execute a search for cleaner energy opportunities and ultimately finalized its new recommendation that went to City Council in July. 

This time around, GWP was under a strict deadline by the California Energy Commission to submit its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), and the new recommendation coming to City Council in July was a part of the IRP. The new recommendation to meet Glendale’s energy needs was nearly 20% cheaper than the previous one, and it once again showed the ongoing trend in California: When a community speaks and its leadership listens, we move swiftly toward a clean, renewable energy future. 

This was exhibited by the City Council’s motion to impose a delay with heavy restrictions on the proposed 93 MW of gas (which ensures the gas plant will never move forward) and to greenlight a boatload of clean energy resources: more than 300 MW of generation, and a 75-MW battery-storage project, which was accelerated for implementation in the next few years (rather than 50 MW now and the remaining 25 MW in a decade). The clean energy resources adopted will benefit Glendale residents and allow them the opportunity to be a part of the solution by participating in a virtual power plant, receiving financing options to pair their solar with battery storage, and accessing energy-efficiency programs to lower their energy bills. And in the next few months, Glendale will receive an additional 25 MW by partnering with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power on 8minute Solar Energy’s Eland project -- one of the largest and cheapest solar and battery storage projects in the world. 

With all of that moving forward, there won't be a shortage of clean energy anytime soon. However, if Glendale wants to achieve a 100% clean energy future, it must also focus on its aging power infrastructure. It’s partially why GWP has been anchored to the past and has spent a lot of time trying to rely on a local gas plant. An upgraded power system would have avoided the initial need to repower Grayson and would have benefitted residents and businesses by improving reliability and reducing electricity losses. A focus on bringing its power system to the 21st century would move us away from solutions that are based on the status quo and prepare Glendale for a clean energy future.

In the last year, the momentum for clean energy has been undeniable. Power plants are being scrapped by decision-makers in favor of clean energy not only in California, as in Oxnard and Los Angeles, but also in Indiana. Grayson is only the latest example of a gas plant losing to clean energy solutions on cost, environmental benefits, reliability, and public support. These cases show not only how difficult it is for utilities to break  from the status quo but also how we don’t have to pick between the environment, jobs, and reliability. 

Local communities can continue this trend and make an incredible difference by showing decision-makers that fossil fuels are no longer acceptable. Clean energy resources are cheaper and safer for residents and businesses, and communities like Glendale have shown how citizens can challenge a utility to choose clean energy for current and future generations. It’s time that communities pushed decision-makers to move beyond the status quo and demand nothing less than what they deserve: a clean energy future that benefits ratepayers, protects the environment, and keeps the lights on.