Los Angeles is finally ditching coal — and replacing it with another polluting fuel

Sammy Roth, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

DELTA, Utah -- The smokestack at Intermountain Power Plant looms mightily over rural Utah, belching steam and pollution across a landscape of alfalfa fields and desert shrub near the banks of the Sevier River.

Five hundred miles away, Los Angeles is trying to lead the world in fighting climate change. But when Angelenos flip a light switch or charge an electric vehicle, some of the energy may come from Intermountain, where coal is burned in a raging furnace at the foot of the 710-foot smokestack.

The coal plant has been L.A.'s single-largest power source for three decades, supplying between one-fifth and one-third of the city's electricity in recent years.

It's scheduled to shut down in 2025, ending California's reliance on the dirtiest fossil fuel.

But Los Angeles is preparing to build a natural gas-fired power plant at the Intermountain site, even as it works to shut down three gas plants in its own backyard. Although gas burns more cleanly than coal, it still traps heat in the atmosphere. It also leaks from pipelines as methane, a planet-warming pollutant more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Critics say Los Angeles and other Southern California cities have no business making an $865-million investment in gas, especially when the state has committed to getting 100% of its electricity from climate-friendly sources such as solar and wind. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti has touted his decision to close the three local gas plants as part of his own "Green New Deal" to fight climate change.


"Having taken our pitch and killed the new gas plants in the city, he's got a big new one that's still going to get built up there in Utah," said S. David Freeman, a former general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. "I don't know how he reconciles his new position with going ahead with that."

Los Angeles also hopes to import solar and wind power from the region, and to build a compressed air energy storage facility -- basically a giant battery for renewable energy. Those projects, along with the gas plant, could provide an economic boost to Utah's Millard County, where hundreds of jobs will disappear when the coal plant closes.

An economic lifeline

Before Intermountain Power Plant was built in the 1980s, Dan Draper said, Millard County "was still in the middle of the Great Depression."


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