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A CLOSER LOOK

Cool Outside, Inferno Inside

The seaside power plant in Huntington Beach keeps a 2,500-degree fire going to produce steam power.

February 17, 2001

You look at a power plant these days and you think of higher electric bills and state bailouts and rolling blackouts. But there is a beauty in the vastness of its huge furnace and the labyrinth of pipes that wrap around the steaming boiler structure. AES Corp.'s seaside power plant along Newland Street in Huntington Beach glows at night like a docking station in a science fiction movie--or perhaps like a piece of outdoor art, all metal and lights.

The stack rises 214 feet, but don't call it a smokestack, says team leader Terry Kunz, because the plant burns relatively clean natural gas.

Two of the plant's four generating units are operating. AES, the state's largest private power producer, has drafted legislation that would allow it to reactivate the dormant pair much more quickly than usual. The units were shut down in 1995, when former owner Southern California Edison Co. was preparing to sell its power plants.

The reactivation plan has angered some, who say the company wants to sacrifice the environment to gain more profit during the state's energy crisis. The plant also is viewed as a possible factor in pollution that has plagued the Huntington Beach shore, because it takes in and discharges ocean water for cooling.

The two working generators, along with a smaller one known as a "peaker unit" driven by jet engines, can generate 563 megawatts, enough to power 563,000 homes.

The steam temperature hits 1,050 degrees, with a boiler pressure of 2,400 pounds per square inch.

Peek into the furnace, where the temperature reaches 2,500 degrees. The heat radiates through the iron door. But the plant is not filled with shirtless, sweating men as they help produce the power that keeps your refrigerator cold or gives your electric guitar its heart.

Only 20 people work at the plant during the day, and three at night. When they go home and flip on the switch, they can take credit for the result.

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