The Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to approve a plan to convert the city’s largest gas power plant to green hydrogen.
The plant’s transformation will advance the city’s goal of reaching 100% clean electricity by 2035, said Paul Krekorian, president of the LA City Council and District 2 council member. However, there has been criticism because the energy source has not been previously used on such a large scale, according to a report from the International Energy Agency.
The Feb. 8 vote allows the LA Department of Water and Power to begin contracting the construction required for the city’s largest gas power plant, Scattergood Generating Station in Playa Del Rey, to be capable of burning hydrogen to create electricity, according to the meeting agenda. DWP also plans to convert power plants in Long Beach and Sun Valley to green hydrogen facilities in the near future, according to the LA Times.
The project, excluding the cost of hydrogen, will cost around $800 million, according to initial estimates from the city administrative officer.
Power plants can produce green hydrogen through a process that does not require sending carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, such as through solar, geothermal or wind power, said Rajit Gadh, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. By using renewable energy and water to produce hydrogen instead, these plants can create power without harming the atmosphere, Gadh said. The process of obtaining hydrogen involves splitting water molecules through electrolysis, producing only hydrogen and oxygen as byproducts.
Gadh added that hydrogen is not a fuel but rather a method by which the city can transport energy, similar to how batteries hold power. As the plant uses green hydrogen to generate more electricity, he said there will be an abundance of power to be used on the grid if there is an emergency.
“Assuming you can have hydrogen that has zero emissions, … that means that you’re burning hydrogen at the Scattergood plant, and then you are producing just water,” Gadh said. “Then that becomes 100% carbon free.”
Critics of the city’s plan to implement green hydrogen as its primary energy source spoke out against the project during the city council meeting, citing the untested nature of the scale of the project and SoCalGas’ alleged greenwashing efforts. However, its supporters in the public comment portion of the meeting included United Association Local 250 and Boilermakers Local 92 unions, whose members spoke of how the project would create jobs and how the modernization efforts would positively affect the plant.
While the vote was unanimous, the council also voted to approve a motion from District 5 Councilmember Katy Young Yaroslavsky for the council to further supervise the project. The motion requires DWP to provide the council with a complete overview of the project, potential alternatives for green hydrogen, and an assessment of the plant’s safety and to engage with neighborhood councils to determine the plan’s impact on the community.
Yaroslavsky, whose district includes UCLA and Westwood, said she voted to approve the project to increase opportunities to understand the risks and other possible alternatives DWP could consider in pursuing clean energy.
“We have an obligation to future generations of Angelenos to move toward a truly clean energy future and to do so with urgency and intelligence,” Yaroslavsky said in the meeting. “The Scattergood project is being billed as a key component to get us there.”
Similar to fossil fuels, hydrogen is a flammable and explosive gas, said Chong Liu, assistant professor of inorganic chemistry. He added that safety must be prioritized in places such as these power plants, but he said he believes it will not be an issue because of the investment made by the city to modernize the infrastructure of the facility.
“The technology has been there,” Liu said. “There was an increase in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s mostly about how to scale it up and retrofit that infrastructure.”
He said safety concerns with hydrogen typically occur during transportation, but since the energy will be produced and stored on-site, this issue will be minimized.
Liu said the main strength of using green hydrogen in comparison with alternative renewable energy sources is that energy formed by the use of green hydrogen can make up for the loss of energy at night when the sun is not powering solar energy.
“It’s exciting to see all the development,” Liu said. “The challenge is the skill has not been demonstrated at such a large scale yet, so it’s exciting. I will say there will be technical challenges, but it’s welcome.”
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The DWP is set to return its report on Yaroslavsky’s motion to the council’s Energy, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and River Committee by Thursday.