The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's Valley Generating Station was a quiet place for about five years. Its four generators lay dormant, and, in recent years, only one worker oversaw the place.
But the plant bustled with activity Thursday when two gas-powered generators were symbolically activated. The steam-generating units, which have been operating since June, will provide 252 megawatts of electrical power to half a million Valley households, officials said.
"We're guaranteeing that the lights will continue to shine in the San Fernando Valley," City Councilman Alex Padilla said.
Besides helping ensure the Valley's power supply during the summer or in an emergency, DWP officials hope that income from the generators will help pay its $2.6-billion debt.
The DWP spent about $5 million to get the generators working, officials said, and the agency has made about $2 million selling its electricity to other states.
"People do want power close to home, so in an emergency they'll have it," said S. David Freeman, DWP general manager. "We will only sell it when we don't need it here. In an emergency, we come first."
Maintenance crews and operators often put in 16-hour days, six days a week for four months to finish the project on time, said Victor M. Ybarra, assistant superintendentat Sun Valley plant. About 34 employees will staff it, he said.
The generators, built in the 1950s, were supposed to have a lifetime of about 20 years, Ybarra said. Building one new unit could cost $250 million, he said.
DWP workers alerted management to the plant's profit potential.
"Private companies were bidding to get it," Ybarra said. "They could see the profit margins."