By - Jim Vess

Facing a demand crunch, California regulators look to extend the lives of four gas-fired plants

Energize Weekly, October 2, 2019

Facing the prospect of electricity shortages as soon as 2021, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) staff has proposed extending the life of four natural gas-fired power plants that use ocean water for cooling.

On Oct. 24, the CPUC is set to rule on the recommendation to keep the four, once-through-cooling (OTC) plants – scheduled to close in 2020 – running for up to three additional years. The units could provide between 2,500 megawatts (MW) and 3,750 MW of generating capacity.

“The electricity resources required in this decision are necessary to continue to integrate the growing amount of renewable energy delivering to the electric grid,” the staff said in its recommendation.

The concern is that the additional renewable generation, primarily solar, is not matching the shift in peak demand to later in the day and later in the year, the report said.

California currently gets a third of its electricity from renewable sources, and state law requires net-zero carbon emissions from electricity generation by 2045.

The decision has been controversial. Some critics have raised concerns about extending the plants’ lives because of air emissions and the continued impact on coastal marine habitat.

The staff said that the “expectation [is] that these OTC units will have low capacity factors, and therefore low emissions and low use of seawater for cooling.”

A more pointed dispute, however, is over whether the move to keep the gas-fired plants open is needed at this time.

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) and Southern California Edison supported the staff decision in filings, believing “time is already too short and additional procurement should be required starting immediately,” according to the staff report.

But the California Community Choice Association, which represents community electric providers, and the Alliance for Retail Energy Markets, representing merchant power companies, each said in filings that the estimates for power needs were overly conservative and that more analysis needed to be done before a decision is made.

Loretta Lynch, a former PUC president, told the Los Angeles Times that the commission has presented “zero evidence” of a need for new power.

Under the staff recommendation, units at the following plants would be kept running: the Alamitos Energy Center with 1,200 MW; the Huntington Beach generating station with 200 MW; the Redondo Beach generating station with 850 MW; and the Ormond Beach generating station with 1,500 MW.

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