A Tale of Two Cities: Palmdale and Lancaster Seething Over Disputed Power Plant

By Alex Matthews

Special Exclusive Report from Capitol Weekly

Nestled deep in the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles are two peaceful California towns — Lancaster and Palmdale. But between those two quiet communities, a raucous fight is raging about a power plant on their border.

Palmdale wants to build it. Lancaster says no way.

Lancaster officials say the Antelope Valley’s gusting winds will carry the plant’s 546 tons of pollution — and the problems that will come with it — straight to Lancaster. 

Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford says Lancaster’s claims are unsubstantiated. He notes that the project was moving forward and received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Energy Commission contingent on the provision of Emission Reduction Credits as part of the program to fight greenhouse gases. 

So why would Lancaster officials suddenly start to fight the project?

“It’s what they do,” Ledford says. “Maybe [Vice Mayor Marvin Crist] put it on his bucket list as something he’d like to do. ‘I think I’d like to kill a power plant.’ It’s just immature.”

Meanwhile, Crist, who along with being the vice mayor of Lancaster also serves as chair of the Antelope Valley Air Quality Management District, sees it as a matter of life and death for his citizens. He believes they will bear the brunt of the impact of pollution in a zone already known for its smoggy air. 

And Lancaster is accustomed to breathing others’ pollution: The Antelope Valley does not create a large amount of industrial pollutants itself, but its proximity to Los Angeles has exposed it to levels of smog that haves made the area among the most heavily polluted zones in the country.

“We’re ranked last in respiratory diseases, asthma, the whole gamut of respiratory diseases,” Crist said. “When all of our kids have asthma and you add to that, it’s kind of like putting too much chlorine in a pool. Chlorine’s good in a pool, but too much chlorine’s bad.”

Crist said that in order for the Palmdale plant to move forward, the project’s proponents must mitigate at a 1.3-to-1 ratio in order to gain their emission reduction credits. Crist added that the plant permit is further demonstration of just how dirty the project is.

Meanwhile, Mayor Ledford argued that 1.3 to 1 ratio as a point of pride on the project, and he added that the EPA described it as one of the cleanest power plants in the state. The 570 megawatt plant will operate on about 90 percent natural gas and 10 percent solar power, Ledford said. Palmdale also said the plant will cut customers’

Crist and Lancaster officials however believe that the EPA and CEQA assessments neglected the prevailing winds that ensure Lancaster will receive most of the pollution coming from the plant on their borders.

 “I can understand their concerns,” said Bret Banks, operations manager at the Antelope Valley Air Quality Management District. “Here’s the difficulty that our agency runs into, there are limits and thresholds that are put out in state and federal law, and if an applicant meets those thresholds then our agency is required to issue a permit.” 

In any case, the emission reduction credits are the final hurdle that Lancaster officials hope Palmdale officials will fail to clear on the path to beginning the plant’s construction. 

The recent $28 million sale of the project to a private entity, the Summit Power Group, and the plants progress towards obtaining those emission reduction credits have created a sense of urgency among those in Lancaster who seek to halt the project. The dispute between the two cities has devolved into a high-stakes “he said, she said’ debate over exactly who the plant will hurt and who it will help.

“When you present something that is a monstrosity like this to the community you have to give it some benefits,” Crist said of Palmdale’s argument that the plant will reduce energy costs throughout the Antelope Valley.

 

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