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But is it squirrel-proof? LAX and DWP's $120 million power grid upgrade plan

File photo: A sign outside LAX.
File photo: A sign outside LAX.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

City officials concerned about repeated power disruptions at Los  International Airport introduced a new plan this week to build a $120 million power station that would serve the airport exclusively.

The current power station that serves LAX and surrounding homes and businesses was built in the 1960s. It's been upgraded since then, but its overhead power lines,  power poles and the station equipment itself are vulnerable to vandalism, damage from vehicle crashes, even bird strikes and animals interference.

A squirrel got into a transformer in Westchester on Thanksgiving Day 2015, triggering a power outage to some 9,000 homes. The outage also caused problems at LAX, causing systems that require a steady supply of power to shut down.

"We had moving walkways, elevators, escalators, screening equipment, baggage screening equipment, that just stopped," Jeffrey Smith, chief airports engineer, told the airport's governing board in December.

Those systems can take hours to restart, he said.

More than 100 power interruptions have affected operations at LAX since 2013. Most are short blips or dips in voltage that can bring people and baggage moving systems to a halt. The airport has backup generators, but those don't keep people and baggage-moving equipment running.

None of the outages has completely shut down the airport, Smith said.

However, a catastrophic power outage that stalls air traffic or interrupts airport security could be costly and dangerous, City Councilman Mike Bonin said Tuesday at a joint meeting of the council's environment and tourist committees.

He referred to the December shutdown of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta airport An 11-hour outage grounded about 1,300 flights and interfered with the travel plans of some 35,000 passengers.

"Just because it hasn’t happened with a constantly weakening infrastructure doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen," Bonin said.
 
The proposed new power plant is a long-term solution, taking several years to build. Short-term and intermediate strategies, like adding uninterruptible, battery-like power supplies to some equipment to keep them running, are also included in the plan and some are already being put into place.

An agreement to build the new power station, to be co-funded by Los Angeles World Airports and the Department of Water and Power, could be approved by their governing boards at a joint meeting in April.