Local Journalism Happens With YouSupport

Sun Valley Gas Plant Has Been Leaking Methane for Years

And it doesn’t seem like the DWP was going to tell us about it.

Silhouette of the Valley Generating Station DroneKing as the sun rises
Sunrise over Valley Generating Station DroneKing / CC BY-SA 4.0

Los Angeles has another methane gas leak, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has known about it for at least a year.

During Tuesday morning’s LADWP Board of Commissioners meeting, DWP General Manager Martin Adams alerted DWP commissioners about an ongoing leak at the Valley Generating Station.

Last Friday, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) alerted the DWP about a methane leak at the Valley Generating Station. And while the five-member board of commissioners (the head of the DWP) did not know about the leak, throughout the meeting it became apparent that employees, and entire departments, had known about the leak for years.

When asked who knew about the leak, Norm Cahill, newly appointed manager of Power Supply Management Systems, said plant management, division management, and the environmental group had known about the leaks.

“We were aware of the leaks, we’ve been monitoring it to make sure they haven’t increased,” said Cahill. He also said the leaks have been going on “for years.”

LADWP Board of Commissioners Meeting 8/25/2020

“There is a lot that we don’t know,” Luis Amezcua, Senior campaign representative at the Sierra Club said. “What we know about this leak, it has been going on for at least a year,” Amezcua said, “And since that year, it’s been getting worse.”

We still do not know when the leak started, or what the rate of leakage was. Or if DWP employees would have alerted the Commissioners if they were not concerned about JPL making this information public.

“We’re bringing this information today because we were alerted yesterday by JPL that they had done a flyover and noticed the same thing that we were already working on. But their information is getting more publicized,” Adams said.

The DWP measurements from last year were about 10,000 cubic feet/hour, which, according to Sierra Club calculations, is about the yearly equivalent of 30,000 cars on the road a year. As a greenhouse gas, methane is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

According to Jasmin Vargas, senior organizer for Food & Water Action, the DWP has no method of measuring methane leaks at their facilities and is not required by law to do so.

“Ultimately, what I find the most disturbing is that they reported this so nonchalantly — ‘this happens all the time’ — they didn’t care about this affecting the community,” Vargas said.

DWP ordered a new design for a faulty compressor last September but does not plan to address the leak before November (when the temperature gets colder and when they receive the part.) DWP commissioners asked for a report on the public health effects of the leak.

“This feels like an alert but not an actual data-based report,” Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill said during the meeting, “I don’t know if I should be terrified or if this is just regular operating procedure[…] I think that if I lived in that area my reaction would be the latter not the former.”

The 576-megawatt gas plant is located in Sun Valley (Council District 6) and borders Pacoima and Panorama City, areas already heavily affected by pollution.

From DWP Strategic Long Term Planning Doc 2017

Sun Valley is predominately Latinx and ranks in the 98 percentile of CalEnviroscreen’s most polluted communities in Los Angeles (in addition to the massive gas plant, there is also pollution from landfills and trains). Methane exposure can lead to headaches, dizziness, trouble breathing, and nose bleeds.

In December 2019, Pacoima Beautiful held a town hall meeting around the Sun Valley Plant. The DWP attended yet did not mention the leak.

According to activists, this gas leak exemplifies the need to transition to clean energy. It is not just a clean energy issue but a public health crisis, not dissimilar to the one in Aliso Canyon.

“It’s clear to me that LADWP does not feel the urgency, and we as a community are pushing them and Mayor Garcetti to shut down Valley Generating Station immediately,” Vargas said.

KNOCK.LA reached out to the DWP to ask how long they’ve known about the leak and they sent this unhelpful statement stating: “This observation by JPL was not previously known by LADWP.”

You can sign Pacoima Beautiful’s petition calling for the shut down of the gas plant here.