Library filed under Energy Policy from California
Gleaning energy from ocean wind would seem to be a California ideal: It emits no greenhouse gases, has nearly no environmental footprint, and harnesses one of the state’s most powerful and plentiful natural resources. But engineering challenges, regulatory hurdles and concerns about the turbines’ impact on wildlife have, until recently, mucked any forward progress.
A new state law signed this month, SB 100, requires all of California’s electricity to come from zero-carbon sources by 2045. Many news reports advertised the law as a mandate for renewable energy, but lawmakers in Sacramento quietly acknowledged that the state may need more than wind turbines, solar panels and hydroelectric dams to meet its climate goals. The new law allows up to 40% of the state’s electricity to come from other zero-carbon sources, including nuclear energy and fossil fuel plants, as long as they capture their carbon emissions.
Most states are enjoying flat or declining electricity rates thanks to shale fracking, which has sent natural gas prices plummeting. But not California, where rates have jumped 25% since 2013. Electricity prices in the Golden State are by far the highest in the continental western U.S. and twice as high as in Washington state. The reason: California requires that 50% of power be generated from renewables such as solar and wind by 2030.
“And if California doesn't lead the inevitable transition, others will. California's wind and solar generation are growing faster than our inefficiently managed electric grid can put them to use. We're literally throwing away pollution-free electricity during certain periods, and the problem will only get worse.”
The state Assembly voted 43-32 in favor of the legislation Tuesday. It would eliminate the reliance on fossil fuels to power homes, businesses and factories in the world’s fifth-largest economy, accelerating a shift already under way. The state currently gets about 44 percent of its power from renewables and hydropower.
California is conducting what may be the most ambitious electricity customer empowerment experiment ever done anywhere; whether it will work remains very much in doubt.
On Tuesday the Trump Administration announced it would repeal yet another one of President Obama’s signature environmental regulations, this one designed to cut climate change-causing pollution emitted by power plants.
The bill ran afoul of the powerful International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1245, which said that sponsor Kevin de Leόn, the president of the State Senate, had gone back on a promise to include amendments to protect union jobs and to assure the security of the power grid. De Leόn's office denied that he promised any amendments to the local, which represents most utility workers in Northern California.
Senate Bill 100 from state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), would phase out fossil fuels for generating electricity within three decades. ...But champions of the efforts have struggled to overcome disagreements among unions, utilities, environmentalists, energy companies and lawmakers in the final days of the legislative session.
Utility companies and the California Independent System Operator, which operates the state's electric grid, say changing from independent oversight of the power system to regional oversight will increase efficiency and help expand clean energy.
Early construction is ongoing at the site near Rawlins, and needs to continue without pause if the company is to qualify for the federal subsidy. If it qualifies for the tax credit, it would last for up to 10 years, she said. Firms that began construction by last year keep the subsidy for a decade. The Power Company of Wyoming is not confident that the second phase of development, for an additional 500 turbines, will qualify for the tax credit.
As California considers a 100% renewable-energy mandate, the state’s legislators should be asking what happens to California’s energy profile when the sun doesn’t shine and the winds don’t blow.
But CAISO concedes that curtailments and “negative pricing” is likely to happen even more often in the future as solar power production continues to grow, unless action is taken to better manage the excess electricity. Arizona’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, is one of the biggest beneficiaries of California’s largesse because it is next door and the power can easily be sent there on transmission lines. On days that Arizona is paid to take California’s excess solar power, Arizona Public Service says it has cut its own solar generation rather than fossil fuel power. So California’s excess solar isn’t reducing greenhouse gases when that happens.
Robert Michaels, an economics professor at Cal State Fullerton, is not as confident and predicts SB100 will lead to higher bills for ratepayers. “It’s going to be expensive. “We already know there are a lot of problems with reliability, just with the percentage of intermittent renewables that you have here (in California). And until, and probably not even after, we get a lot more in the way of usable battery storage or some way of storing this stuff, it’s simply not going to be feasible.”
The path to an all-renewable electrical grid would mean major technological advances and upgrades, experts say. Arne Olson, partner at the international energy consulting firm E3, said the state would have to diversify its renewable portfolio. Building solar farms can be expensive and take up lots of land, and federal restrictions have banned wind farms from prime desert sites.
An analysis of CAISO data from 2011 through mid-2016 by consultancy ScottMadden reveals that California has largely exceeded its 2013 projections for lower net loads and higher ramps in energy demand. These changes are occurring in the wintertime too, another season that’s light on air conditioning load. In addition, the deepest drops are happening on weekends, not weekdays.
The plant's operators and the environmental groups who orchestrated the shutdown intend to fill the energy gap left by Diablo Canyon's closure with wind and solar power, as well as conservation initiatives. Even if they make good on those promises, the transition will come at a high cost -- particularly to low-income Californians already struggling to keep their lights on.
“There is a regressive nature to some of these things,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday, noting that more than 1 million state households spend more than 10% of their income on energy. “We have to be sensitive to issues relating to energy costs.” ... renewable energy goals will require going far beyond putting up new wind turbines and solar array farms.
There remains “a lot that is actually beyond PG&E, to be worked out at the California Public Utilities Commission, California ISO, and other California discussions,” says PG&E’s Strauss. “If action occurs too late, then there may be some challenge to the reliability of the system,” he says. “
So, Casey is proposing California join up with its neighbors. Instead of having lots of electric grids across the West, each doing their own thing, there would be a larger regional grid, sharing power across state lines. When California has too much solar power, neighboring states would buy it, preventing California from having to switch off the solar farms.