State regulatory agency slaps LADWP with violation over methane gas leak at Sun Valley power plant

Lila Seidman
SUN VALLEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: The steam stacks of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Valley Generating Station in Sun Valley is visible from the Hansen Dam Bike Path. Activists with Pacoima Beautiful have been campaigning for over a year to shut down the facility because of health and environmental concerns. The DWP disclosed a few weeks ago that the facility had been leaking methane for several years that, they say, has been fixed now. Photographed on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020 in Sun Valley, CA. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
The steam stacks of the Los Angeles DWP Valley Generating Station in Sun Valley as seen from the Hansen Dam bike path. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

A Southern California regulatory agency slapped the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power with a notice of violation over equipment identified as the source of a multiyear methane gas leak at a Sun Valley power plant.

Responding to the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s notice, the DWP said in a statement that repairs to a pair of compressors at the natural-gas-powered Valley Generating Plant were completed in December, adding that the “the leak has been completely stopped.”

Research drones from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena detected the leaks beginning in mid-July, the Los Angeles Daily News reported. DWP General Manager Marty Adams notified the public — and the utility’s board of commissioners — about the leak in late August.

A staffer told The Times that the 67-year-old plant’s compressor units had been leaking gas “for the last couple years.”

The air quality management district announced the notice of violation late Thursday, saying the agency learned Aug. 26 of an ongoing methane leak at the plant and conducted an inspection.

Using an optical gas imaging camera and other hand-held equipment, inspectors detected methane emissions in excess of 100,000 parts per million coming from the vents of two natural gas compressors, said Nahal Mogharabi, the air quality district's communications director.

A mobile monitoring platform was then deployed to evaluate methane levels in Sun Valley. Results from those measurements showed methane readings within typical background levels. Air samples collected on-site showed elevated levels of methane within the perimeter of the facility.

The DWP said it is taking steps to remedy the situation.

Beginning in August, the utility took the compressors offline and made temporary emergency repairs in September to reduce the emissions by 95%, the DWP said in its statement.

“While the level of emissions detected prior to the repairs is considered very low in comparison to numerous other emissions sources, we know that a leak of any amount is of concern to neighbors and local residents in the Northeast Valley,” the statement said.

Air quality inspectors returned to the facility weekly through the end of the year and verified that the DWP had repaired the leaking equipment, Mogharabi said.

Residents of Sun Valley and Pacoima breathe some of California’s worst air and suffer from asthma-related hospitalizations at rates far higher than most of the state. The community directly surrounding the plant is home to a predominantly low-income and Latino population.

City Council President Nury Martinez, who represents the community around the plant and wrote the motion, said she was “outraged” by the news of the leak.

After learning about the leak, Los Angeles City Council members voted unanimously in November to create a timeline to shut down the plant.

Last month, Parris Law Firm filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of residents against the DWP seeking financial damages and other remedies. The Lancaster firm is also behind a suit related to the 2015 Porter Ranch gas leak.

Adding more pollution to the area, “you know that certainly some individuals are going to tip over into dangerous physical conditions,” said R. Rex Parris, the mayor of Lancaster and the attorney overseeing the suit. “And you know that and you keep it a secret — that truly is appalling.”

The South Coast Air Quality Management District's notice of violation can result in fines as well as civil and criminal action, according to its website.

City News Service contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.