Huntington Beach council members gasped when shown renderings of what the AES power plant off Pacific Coast Highway could look like.
City staff and an AES representative debuted a revamped facility during Monday's study session, depicting shorter steam towers, giant surfboards and mesh structures resembling a wave.
"People are going to talk about that," Councilman Joe Shaw said. "That's going to be something people are going to take pictures of and send it back to Australia or wherever they're from. It's a really interesting idea. It's going to be a great landmark. I'd be very proud to have that in our city."
The proposal would have the plant taking on a new shape, eliminating the two 210-foot stacks and replacing them with six 120-foot structures. The operation would also convert to an air-cooled system, ditching its water-cooling method.
To help blend the shorter stacks with the surrounding environment, AES proposed painting them in a two-tone scheme. The bottom third would be a tan, almost sand-like color, while the rest would be painted blue to match the sky.
Stephen O'Kane, AES's manager of sustainability and regulatory compliance, said the company would be willing to go further aesthetically by building surfboards about 120 feet high to lean on the steam stacks. Additionally, large mesh structures resembling a wave would be placed on the west and east sides of the facility to reduce the industrial look.
The planned air-cooled condenser would be enclosed in a similar mesh structure, taking on the appearance of a bigger wave.
"We're really looking at celebrating the plant," O'Kane said. "We're not going to hide it. I think if we tried to put it in a building, it would be a big building and a large mass."
Councilman Dave Sullivan cautioned that although the concepts represent an improvement, they could be vetoed by California Fish and Wildlife.
City staff members also discussed the potential fees the South Coast Air Quality Management District could collect from AES under a recently passed rule.
An estimated $72 million could be paid by the power plant to the air regulator for the emission offsets provided by the AQMD.
City energy project manager Aaron Klemm said the district's staff is advising board members to use the fees toward air improvement projects for the area surrounding the power plant. He said the topic will be discussed at an Oct. 23 AQMD workshop in Diamond Bar.
The City Council later voted unanimously to ask the district to use the fees for projects around AES and around the city. Some suggestions included upgrading the street lights in the city to LED bulbs, converting city fleet vehicles to run on natural gas and synchronizing signals.
Key to the city
Also Monday, Steve Bone, former Huntington Beach Marketing and Visitors Bureau president and chief executive, was awarded the key to the city for his more than 27 years of service to the city.
The commendation came as a surprise to Bone, who jokingly murmured to his former colleagues, "We're going to need to talk later."
Mayor Connie Boardman said that to get him to the meeting, Bone was told he had to give a report. A staff member had even worked with him on his notes for Monday night's faux presentation.
"I've been had," Bone said.
The mayor listed Bone's accomplishments, including aiding in the development of the Hyatt and Waterfront Hilton, cofounding the Orange County Tourism Council and being founding chairman of the Orange County Film Commission.
"We can't thank Steve enough for what he's done," bureau chairman Brett Barnes said. "It's been an honor to work with Steve through all the years, and his vision is unmatched."