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Power Is At The Center Of The Unlikely Tie Between Los Angeles And Delta, Utah

Photo of the Gadsby plant
Brian Albers
The Intermountain Power Plant in Delta, Utah, is Los Angeles' largest power source but now at the center of a growing divide. The Gadsby plant in Salt Lake City (pictured here) is a natural gas power plant owned by Pacificorp.

About 3,500 people live in the small, rural town of Delta, Utah. Some 600 miles away, the population of Los Angeles County’s sprawling metropolis is about 10 million. The two cities don’t have much in common, but there is one thing that ties them together: power. 

That’s because the Intermountain Power Plant, a coal-fired power plant in Delta, is LA’s largest power source. But now the arrangement, which dates back to the late 1970s, is at the center of a growing divide. 

Protestors in Los Angeles demonstrated before a Department of Water and Power meeting Tuesday, urging city officials not to replace the coal plant with natural gas when it’s set to close in 2025, the Los Angeles Times reported

The Intermountain plant’s share agreement allocates just under 75% of the plant’s power to six Southern California participants, with the vast majority going to Los Angeles. In practice, however, the number is closer to 98%, according to John Ward, spokesman for the Intermountain Power Agency. That has environmental groups and neighborhood councils in the LA area angry that a major portion of their energy comes from a dirty source. While burning natural gas is about twice as clean as coal, it still emits carbon dioxide, contributing to rising global temperatures and a shifting climate. 

California has mandated that all electric utilities run on 100% zero-carbon energy by 2045, while the city recently voted to declare a “climate emergency” and has created its own “green new deal.” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has said he’s open to being convinced that the gas plant is not needed, the Times reported. 

If the gas plant isn’t built, that could spell economic hardship for Delta, where the Intermountain plant helped create hundreds of well-paying jobs when it came online in 1986. 

said that California also needs Delta and the Great Basin region of Western Utah if it wants to build the green energy future it’s envisioning. 

The same level of cooperation that built the coal plant more than 30 years ago is what will propel clean energy opportunities for both cities in the future, Ward said. The gas plant is a crucial part of that transition, he said, as 100% renewable energy technology is not quite ready for the size and scale required by a city like Los Angeles. 

He said the region surrounding the Intermountain Power Project has huge advantages for the megalopolis, mostly because of the infrastructure already in place. There’s also an underground salt mound adjacent to the plant which has the potential to act as a “giant battery” to store renewable wind or solar energy.

“Those are advantages that are just too good to overlook,” Ward said. “This is the ideal place in the West to be pushing forward this type of evolution of the electrical grid.”

Update 4:34 p.m. MDT 11/21/19: The following factual errors have been corrected: An earlier version of the story misstated the populations of Delta and Los Angeles. The story said that the Intermountain Power Plant sends nearly half of its power to Los Angeles alone. That number is based on the agreement in place. In practice the plant sends more than 98% of its energy to six participants in the LA area. The story misstated California’s 2045 energy goals as 100% renewable. Instead, the goal is to reach 100% zero-carbon energy. The story said protestors interrupted the DWP meeting. They chanted outside beforehand and offered comments during the designated public comment period at the meeting.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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