Los Angeles single-largest power source is still a coal plant in Utah

Intermountain Power Plant transmission line to Los Angeles.

The City of Los Angeles wants to shut down coal-burning Intermountain Power Plant in Utah. It currently supplies the city with 18% of its power. The shutdown is planned for 2025. However, new sources of baseline power (that runs 24/7) need to be built to replace it. The City plans to build a natural gas plant in the same location. It will still be polluting, just not as much. Solar and wind with grid-scale batteries are cost-effective now. However they still aren’t 24/7.

It’s complicated. L.A. wants to transition to completely clean energy. The proposed gas plant in Utah will be a stop gap measure until more renewables are installed. At least that’s the theory. Environmentalists understandably aren’t happy about plans to replace a nasty coal plant with a gas plant, that while better, is still polluting. L.A. says a gas plant there is needed to provide enough “firm generation” to allow transmission of future renewable energy projects to reliably send power to southern California. Critics say that can be better provided for in other ways.

LADWP officials say they have several reasons to build a gas plant in place of the coal facility.

For one thing, natural gas will help them keep the lights on. Solar and wind can’t be relied on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at least not without big amounts of energy storage. As the city works toward eliminating fossil fuels — its electricity was 30% renewable in 2017 — LADWP wants to keep operating some plants that can generate energy around the clock.

Reiko Kerr, LADWP’s senior assistant general manager for power system engineering, said the utility is working toward a 100% clean energy future.

“That’s coming. We recognize it,” Kerr said. “But we also recognize, if you go totally off gas immediately, you’re not going to be able to meet federal reliability standards, and that’s not acceptable either. So trying to balance those two is the real challenge.”