As California turns to renewables, who will clean up old plants? | Fossil Fuels News


Oxnard, California, US – For years, poor communities of color have lived with a disproportionate share of the burdens generated by fossil-fuel manufacturing, together with air pollution and proximity to industrial websites.

Right this moment, as California seeks to transition to renewable power for one hundred pc of its electrical energy wants by 2045, the way forward for a few of the US state’s 217 pure gasoline crops is unsure. In a merciless twist, the identical communities which have suffered from generations of air pollution might now be saddled with the prices of dismantling and cleansing up previous fossil-fuel services.

Oxnard, located round 100km northwest of Los Angeles on California’s central coast, is one such metropolis. Residence to a largely working-class Latino group, it has seen quite a few industrial services litter its in any other case pristine shoreline. Some now lie empty, as questions linger over the way forward for this land and the substantial clean-up prices.

For Shirley and Larry Godwin, who purchased a house in Oxnard in 1966, such questions have turned them into “unintentional activists”.

Larry and Shirley Godwin place a hand-drawn map of the area surrounding their neighbourhood, including a slag heap abandoned years ago by the company that operated it.
Larry and Shirley Godwin present maps of the realm surrounding their neighbourhood [Brian Osgood/Al Jazeera]

On their kitchen desk, they place a hand-drawn map of the realm surrounding their neighbourhood, together with a slag heap deserted years in the past by the corporate that operated it, and two pure gasoline crops – one dormant and one lively, each fuelling contentious debate throughout the group.

A number of blocks away is a plant that produces paper for cardboard packing containers, and a small practice monitor shuttles items previous the Godwins’ yard a number of occasions a day.

“At any time when we might take our youngsters to the seaside, you would depend on seeing the exhausts popping out from one of many gasoline crops,” Shirley Godwin informed Al Jazeera. “Our group doesn’t agree on every little thing, however there’s one factor that unites virtually everybody, and that’s that just about no person needs them [energy companies] to remain.”

Environmental justice

In 2018, after years of mobilising by native teams comparable to Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Financial system (CAUSE) round problems with environmental justice and renewable options, Oxnard rejected an try by an power firm, NRG, to construct one more pure gasoline plant on its coast.

“It’s part of California’s coast folks don’t see, coastal communities like Oxnard with giant working-class communities of color,” Lucas Zucker, CAUSE’s coverage and communications director, informed Al Jazeera. “It’s not a coincidence that these stretches of industrialised shoreline are in communities like Oxnard. Because the state transitions to renewables, what occurs to this fossil-fuel infrastructure?”

A power plant mars the California coast in Oxnard.
An influence plant is seen in Oxnard, California [Brian Osgood/Al Jazeera]

A current examine performed by the College of California, Berkeley in coordination with numerous group organisations, together with CAUSE, discovered that Oxnard and the encircling space are at heightened threat of business websites flooding on account of sea-level rise pushed by local weather change.

The identical examine discovered that deprived communities are greater than 5 occasions as prone to dwell inside one kilometre of business websites prone to flooding by 2050. “Sea degree rise, poisonous services and social vulnerability all map onto one another,” Zucker stated.

For these charged with threading the needle between a future with out fossil fuels and the thorny dilemmas of find out how to finance the clean-up of previous industrial websites, there isn’t a simple path ahead.

In 2020, Oxnard Metropolis Supervisor Alexander Nguyen helped to dealer a cope with the power firm GenOn, extending the lifetime of the Ormond Seaside Producing Station, a pure gasoline plant, till 2023, in alternate for a portion of income – $25m – going right into a belief devoted to clean-up.

“Individuals ask what we’ll do if $25m isn’t sufficient to dismantle the location, and I at all times give the identical reply: We’ll nonetheless be $25m forward of the place we might be in any other case,” Nguyen informed Al Jazeera.

Maps show the abandoned industrial sites in Oxnard, California.
Maps present the deserted industrial websites in Oxnard, California [Brian Osgood/Al Jazeera]

The California State Water Assets Management Board had initially steered that Ormond, together with quite a few comparable crops all through the state that use ocean water for his or her cooling techniques in a manner that damages the ecosystem, be shut down. However in September 2020, responding to issues that with out the crops, the state’s power provide is likely to be insufficient, the board steered (PDF) that they continue to be open till 2023.

Undesirable ‘monuments’

Nguyen factors to what he calls “monuments to the twentieth century” scattered all through California: gasoline crops which were unceremoniously deserted by the businesses that when operated them, leaving cities, comparable to Morro Bay, unable to afford the prohibitive prices of tearing them down.

“In California, a plant will be pressured to shut, however not dismantled. So different crops have been decommissioned, and now they’re simply sitting there, rusting and leaching into the bottom,” Nguyen stated. “What I didn’t need is for that to happen in Oxnard.”

GenOn didn’t reply to a request for remark from Al Jazeera concerning the cope with Oxnard to increase the lifetime of the Ormond plant.

Signs warn of no entry allowed to a US federal Superfund environmental clean-up site.
Indicators warn of no entry allowed to a US federal Superfund environmental clean-up website [Brian Osgood/Al Jazeera]

A brief drive north, Oxnard’s coast is bookended by one other pure gasoline plant, the Mandalay Producing Station, which has been dormant since 2018. A neighborhood newspaper, the Ventura County Star, reported that the location was not too long ago offered to an LLC, shaped earlier this yr, for round $8.7m. Based on the paper, the brand new homeowners have supplied no data on the way forward for the location, and elected officers have expressed hopes that will probably be one thing moreover trade.

Mandalay was beforehand owned by GenOn, the identical firm that oversees the Ormond plant. Seen from kilometres away, the shuttered plant and its huge smokestacks dominate the panorama.

Even with the way forward for such websites in query, the Godwins stay upbeat about what lies forward for his or her group, as they communicate with fierce delight in regards to the metropolis they name residence.

“We at all times say we had been two of the least possible folks you would discover to get entangled in activism. I’m fearful of public talking,” Shirley Godwin stated. “However we love our group. Once we acquired concerned with these points, we met so many individuals from all totally different cultural and sophistication backgrounds. It’s a various group, and that’s what we like about it.”

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