By Grant Slater
IBEW members are laying the groundwork for only the second refinery in the world dedicated to producing sustainable aviation fuel for the nation’s commercial jets.
World Energy purchased the refinery in the South L.A. community of Paramount in 2018 and set about fully converting it from a facility that processed crude oil to one that makes emissions-friendly jet fuel from animal fats and vegetable oils.
The Paramount refinery opened in the 1920s after the discovery of oil in nearby Signal Hill. The facility stopped using crude oil in 2014 and began producing biofuel. Now it is undergoing a complete overhaul, which is expected to be completed in 2025.
To do that, workers from IBEW and other trades must demolish or retrofit a massive amount of equipment, some of it more than 100 years old. For the dozens of electricians on site, that means a lot of work, safely de-electrifying structures that are going down while keeping the rest of the facility up and running.
Mark McDonald is the General Foreman for that demolition process, and he said working with old equipment can be challenging and potentially dangerous if not properly handled.
“We’re held to the utmost IBEW standards,” he said. “It’s definitely not a glorious task, but the most critical thing is safety to make sure my guys get home safe.”
The $2 billion retrofit will see the former Paramount oil refinery facility fully converted to sustainable fuel production that will boost the facility’s capacity 700 percent by 2025 to 340 million gallons per year.
By 2050, World Energy, and its partner in the project AirProducts, estimate that fuels from the plant will displace more than 76 million tons of carbon dioxide — the equivalent of 3.8 million net-zero-emission airline flights from Los Angeles to New York.
Louis Lazoya, the site superintendent for Newtron Electric said that, at the height of construction last year, the refinery project employed 47 IBEW 11 members.
“It started off slowly, but it’s been ramping up as we’re clearing out the areas, which will allow them to demo those areas to build a state-of-the-art facility,” Lazoya said.
So far, two million work hours have poured into the ongoing retrofit and demolition. Officials from AirProducts expect the project to peak at hiring 150 to 200 electricians.
IBEW Local 11 Business Manager and Financial Secretary Robert Corona visited the World Energy refinery this month to speak with officials from World Energy and AirProducts as well as union brothers and sisters on the site.
“In this day and age, we know fossil fuels are not good for the earth,” Corona said. “But we have to have some way of producing fuel to run all our cars and our planes and everything. This plant is doing that, and this means work for our members. That’s really the future of IBEW.”
Corona noted that billions of dollars in federal funds are pouring into the production of clean and sustainable hydrogen and that AirProducts, is the biggest supplier of hydrogen in both California and in the world.
Tomi Riley, AirProducts’ government relations manager, said that the company has around $6.5 billion to providing hydrogen infrastructure to serve the California market.
“There’s a lot of exciting developments ahead, and we’re really happy to be working with IBEW to make all of this a reality,” Riley said.