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Los Angeles firms up plans for green hydrogen as backup power source

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Los Angeles, often shrouded in smog, aims to generate 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035.
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The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power California is considering a new resource plan that would involve retrofitting four natural gas-fired plants to run on green hydrogen as a backup power source.

The municipal utility presented a summary of the proposed Strategic Long-Term Resource Plan on Oct. 11, unveiling details of how Los Angeles plans to generate 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2035.

The proposal came after the Los Angeles City Council's energy committee delayed a decision on whether to advance a project to retrofit Scattergood, the first generating station of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, or LADWP, for green hydrogen. The gas-fired plant is one of three slated for retirement by 2029 as California decarbonizes its power sector. However, environmental groups and at least one city councilmember have pushed back on the LADWP's plans, first proposed in 2021, to combust hydrogen instead.

The use of green hydrogen in power generation is still nascent, but it could become economical for the first time with the new tax credits provided by the Inflation Reduction Act, according to one study. Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysis, or the separation of hydrogen and oxygen in water, powered by zero-carbon electricity. The fuel emits no CO2 when burned, motivating states and utilities to consider it as an alternative to fossil fuels.

But local stakeholders have raised questions about whether Scattergood, followed by Los Angeles' Haynes, Harbor CC and Valley (Los Angeles) CT plants, would run on 100% green hydrogen. The LADWP initially proposed blending hydrogen with natural gas before transitioning to a 100% hydrogen fuel.

Other environmentalists oppose hydrogen in general, as its climate impacts are little understood, according to researchers. Even when carbon-free, hydrogen is leak-prone and may increase the concentration of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere.

"LADWP is missing the mark with this near-sighted plan," Jasmin Vargas, senior Los Angeles organizer at nonprofit Food & Water Watch, said in a statement. "Burning hydrogen in-basin perpetuates the hazards faced by frontline communities and risks extending the life of fossil fuel infrastructure. LADWP must focus on community-centered energy solutions that are truly renewable instead of retrofitting natural gas plants that should be decommissioned. We can't afford to waste our precious water resources or ratepayer funds on hydrogen boondoggles."

Draft plan proposes hydrogen as backup

The resource plan, if approved, targets 80% renewable energy by 2030 through solar, wind and storage facilities. Combustion turbines powered by renewable fuel, such as green hydrogen, will also be "necessary for reliability and resiliency" in order to go carbon-free by 2035, according to a study commissioned by the utility.

The LADWP plans to minimize its reliance on green hydrogen, limiting its use to a backup power source on cloudy, windless days or in case of transmission loss. Under its new draft plan, the utility forecasts green hydrogen usage will provide 1% of the city's electricity needs in 2035, and the converted plants will only need to operate at 1% of their total capacity.

The utility has yet to release a final draft of its long-term resource plan, which will go to the Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commissioners for approval.

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