AES power plant

The proposed redesign of the AES power plant off Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach. (AES / City of Huntington Beach)

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The Huntington Beach City Council signed off on AES' plans to give its power plant at Pacific Coast Highway and Newland Street a beach motif and replace two tall steam stacks with shorter ones, but the energy provider must still receive a permit to begin construction.

Council members unanimously voted to approve the redesign of the natural gas-powered electricity-generating facility and allow the company to construct steam stacks that exceed the 50-foot height limit in that area. The six proposed stacks will be 120 feet each.

The two 202-foot steam stacks there currently were approved under an old provision.

The company's intent is to upgrade the facility and have it blend in better with the surrounding beachside neighborhood.

Monday's vote was among the last endorsements AES needed from the city before it submits its plans for final approval to the California Energy Commission, which has jurisdiction over the project.

"We have been at this for almost two years now," said Stephen O'Kane, AES's manager of sustainability and regulatory compliance.

O'Kane added that the company hopes to begin construction by 2016 and complete the entire project in seven years.

"We're almost two years into a one-year process and time is money," he said.

AES has stayed with preliminary plans debuted during a study session in October, which include removing its two 202-foot steam stacks to accommodate six 120-foot structures painted in light blue and tan colors.

Additionally, the company looks to have 125-foot surfboards placed in front of the units to make the facility easier on the eyes.

The air-cooled condenser would also be enclosed in a mesh structure that resembles a wave.

Slight changes were added Monday to make the facility even more aesthetically appealing. City staff suggested having the surfboards three-dimensional and realistic-looking. They also wanted a trompe l'oeil, a realistic painting, of a hotel building on the cooling units.

Councilwoman Connie Boardman said during a study session earlier Monday that she liked the proposed changes to the structures, but wanted more done about the large pipes on the cooling units that can be seen from the mobile home park across the street.

"That looks like a big four-story building with some weird pipes on it," Councilman Dave Sullivan said. "The rest is good, but something needs to be done with that."

Councilwoman Jill Hardy had concerns with the amount of painting on the structures and what it would take to maintain the freshness and consistency.

"As that seaweed fades or gets vandalized, how do we make sure that [AES] maintains it as is and doesn't come in with some awful green?" Hardy asked.

O'Kane said changes can still be made to the project and that the Energy Commission would bring in a staff member to make sure the city is satisfied with the design.