Library filed under Energy Policy from California
But now the blackouts have put Gov. Gavin Newsom and policymakers on the defensive about the state’s energy choices. Critics are chortling over the fact that wind power isn’t always reliable and solar naturally fades as evening arrives, leaving the state exposed to energy shortages during extraordinary heat waves. “What we’ve seen over time is a starving away of the very electricity that keeps the lights on in California,” said Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, vice chairman of the Assembly’s Utilities and Energy Committee. “When the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining, the people of California do not stop living their lives and cooking their food and washing their clothes.
By the late afternoon Friday, when the state’s substantial solar production began to drop off as the sun set, California ISO grid operators in its control room in Folsom knew they were in trouble. The renewable supply was falling, and there wasn’t enough gas to replace it. The only recourse left was to import power from neighboring states. Unfortunately, imports on a major transmission line connecting Northern California to resources in the Pacific Northwest had been curtailed as grid operators across the region lined up supplies due to the extreme heat, according to Wood Mackenzie analyst John McMahon and the ISO.
“We have a much more risky supply of energy now because the sun doesn’t always shine when we want and the wind doesn’t always blow when we want,” said Frank Wolak, a Stanford University economics professor who specializes in energy markets. “We need more tools to manage that risk. We need more insurance against the supply shortfalls.” But the problems made Newsom see red.
The two blackouts in less than a year are strong evidence that the tens of billions that Californians have spent on renewables come with high human, economic, and environmental costs. Last December, a report by done for PG&E concluded that the utility’s customers could see blackouts double over the next 15 years and quadruple over the next 30.
In an ironic twist, the rapid growth of solar power is one of the reasons energy regulators say it’s too soon to retire the four coastal gas plants. Growing amounts of California’s electricity are supplied by solar farms — sometimes 50% or more on spring afternoons, when sunshine is abundant and electricity demand is low. But all that solar generation drops off sharply each evening, at which point natural gas plants typically fire up to fill the gap.
Central Valley lawmakers have long argued that large hydropower projects should count toward California’s renewable energy goals. From their perspective, excluding existing hydropower facilities forces utilities to buy additional solar and wind energy, raising energy costs for ratepayers in one of the poorest parts of the state.
The price of our leaders’ green virtue will fall particularly hard on working-class Californians who already suffer the nation’s highest rate of people living in poverty. They also tend to live in less-temperate geographies such as the Inland Empire, the high desert and the Central Valley. Expect the recent moves to expand the ranks of the million Californians who suffer from “energy poverty,” defined as spending 10 percent or more of their household income on energy-related expenses.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week reasserted jurisdiction over power contracts held by California utility Pacific Gas and Electric ...PG&E last month asked a federal bankruptcy court to prevent FERC from enforcing the terms of more than 380 power purchase agreements (PPAs) that it may want to exit as part of a Chapter 11 proceeding. FERC argued Friday it must separately win approval from the agency to alter the contract terms.
In its bankruptcy filing, PG&E claims some of the credit for helping renewable energy come of age, saying its contracts “contributed to significant price reductions for renewable energy resources currently available in the market.” But PG&E is still paying out those contracts, which can last 15 to 20 years. The bankruptcy judge could potentially seek to change their terms or prices.
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.