California scrambles to find electricity to compensate for plant closures

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California is battling for large amounts of electricity over the next few years to compensate for the impending shutdown of fossil-fueled power plants and a nuclear facility that supplies nearly 10% of the state’s electricity.

The California Public Utilities Commission has ordered utilities to purchase an unprecedented amount of renewable energy and battery storage as the state phase out four natural gas-fired power plants and withdraws Diablo Canyon, the last nuclear power plant in the ‘State, from 2024.

As companies move quickly to power contracts, the California Energy Commission and the state’s grid operator recently expressed concern that the purchases may not be enough to prevent power shortages over the course of time. summers to come.

The order requires companies such as

PG&E Corp.


PCG 3.99%

and

Edison International‘s


EIX 1.33%

Southern California Edison will commission more than 14,000 megawatts of power generation and storage capacity in the coming years, an amount equal to about one-third of the state’s forecast for peak summer demand.

California has already struggled to keep the lights on this year. Forest fires disrupted the transmission of electricity and a severe drought crippled hydroelectric production across the West. People involved in the development of new energy sources say they foresee significant challenges in moving fast enough to ensure an adequate supply.

A battery storage facility replaced a gas-fired power plant at Moss Landing, north of Monterey, California.



Photo:

Christie Hemm Klok for The Wall Street Journal

The state’s dilemma underscores the difficulties of a rapid transition to cleaner energy resources, as the United States and many countries are now pledging to do in response to concerns about climate change. A California law passed in 2018 requires the state to decarbonize its electricity grid by 2045.

Edward Randolph, executive director of the California Utilities Commission for Energy and Climate Policy, said the organization has been preparing for retirement from Diablo Canyon since approving PG&E’s plan to decommission the nuclear power plant in 2018. But the commission has since had to revise its planning as a result of a change in the amount of energy available across the West, he said.

The drought limited production from some of the region’s most significant production facilities, including the Hoover Dam. On top of that, other states have moved to shut down coal-fired power plants in recent years, reducing the amount of electricity California can import when high temperatures increase demand for electricity.

“What has radically changed… is that we have had much bigger and bigger heat waves than ever before,” said Mr. Randolph. “These are not incorporated into our planning standards. “

The Diablo Canyon plant has long been contested by anti-nuclear activists, and PG&E would have had to make expensive seismic security upgrades to renew its federal license with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Instead, the company negotiated a deal in 2016 with environmental groups and unions to close it and replace its production with renewable energies.

Landowners in windy, sunny parts of the United States oppose large-scale renewable energy development, an opposition that researchers say could slow the transition to a cleaner economy. Photo: Aaron Yoder / WSJ

At the time, state officials played down the impact on supply, saying they had a decade to procure electricity. The two nuclear power plants at Diablo Canyon, which provide a total of 2,250 megawatts of electricity, are now expected to close in 2024 and 2025.

The state is also preparing for the shutdown of four gas-fired power plants on the southern California coast that together provide more than 3,700 megawatts. The factories were due to close last year, but regulators decided to keep one online until 2021 and the other three until 2023 over fears California could face it. electricity shortages on hot evening days when solar energy production decreases.

At the end of 2019, the utilities commission ordered the state’s large power companies, as well as small suppliers, to contract for 3,300 next-generation megawatts by 2023 to account for potential shortages of electricity. ‘supply. The effort is mostly on track, with some projects facing minor delays, according to an agency review.

Electricity providers will soon have to move even faster in contracting for new supplies. The utilities commission ordered them this summer to bring more than three times the capacity online between 2023 and 2026. The purchase order, the largest ever issued by the agency, provides for 11,500 megawatts of wind power. and solar, battery storage and other carbon emissions. free resources, sufficient to supply approximately 2.5 million households.

The California grid operator, known as Caiso, has called on residents to save electricity on several occasions this summer and took emergency measures purchase additional supplies from regional producers to reduce the risk of blackouts. The state also recently added four temporary natural gas generators to power plants to help alleviate the shortage.

CEO of Caiso

Elliot Mainzer

said the network operator is looking to help speed up the construction of a new generation, but remains ready to take emergency measures in the summers to come, especially if the drought persists.

“These are tools that you hope you never have to use,” he said. “We have to be ready for this, we have to have our contingency plan in place.”

Fong Wan, senior vice president of energy policy and purchasing at PG&E, said he expects building batteries to help alleviate the supply shortage significantly in the years to come. A longer-term challenge, he said, will be the development of storage capable of providing electricity for many hours. Most large-scale batteries provide power for up to four hours, with long lasting technology still in the early stages of development.

A power plant in Huntington Beach, California is being shut down as the state attempts to switch from fossil fuels to renewables.



Photo:

Leonard Ortiz / Zuma Press

“We are literally at the forefront of rapidly adding renewables,” said Mr. Wan. “And along with that, there are some things that we learn through trial and error, and we take risks in the process.”

PG&E and Southern California Edison recently entered into a contract to purchase power from a 350 megawatt battery storage project being developed by Recurrent Energy. The project, which will provide electricity for four hours, is expected to go live next year, according to the company.

Michael Arndt, president and CEO of Recurrent, said the company was bullish in the California market, but worried about how long it would take for projects to gain approval to connect to the network. The battery storage project that is slated to go live next year has been going on since 2015. The company recently filed more than 20 similar connection requests in the state.

“The interconnection process is long and I don’t know what the solution is,” said Mr. Arndt. “There are so many projects that are tabled for study, and it just takes a long time. “

Write to Katherine Blunt at [email protected]

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