Aug.11 (Reuters) – California, which is struggling to balance its clean energy push with the need to increase power supplies and avoid blackouts, will rely more on fossil fuels in the weeks to come to keep the current going if the scorching heat waves stretch its network.
The Golden State, which has one of the most aggressive environmental policies in the world, faces a potential supply shortfall of up to 3,500 megawatts during peak demand hours in the coming weeks. This represents around 2.6 million households supplying electricity.
Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to fill that gap in part by allowing industrial energy users to run on generators and diesel engines, according to a recent emergency proclamation. The state says it is developing a plan to offset the additional emissions through investments in improving air quality.
“We’re getting additional reliability at the cost of additional environmental impacts from emissions,” said Seth Hilton, a Stoel Rives attorney who represents energy companies in regulatory proceedings in California, in an interview.
California’s predicament demonstrates the challenges power grids face in moving away from natural gas and coal while incorporating large amounts of wind and solar power that only work when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. .
California aims to produce 60% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Other governments that make their own energy policies are watching closely.
Nationally, President Joe Biden aims to decarbonize the entire U.S. electricity sector by 2035. Utilities have said that goal may not be achievable without big breakthroughs in clean technology.
This year in California, an extreme drought reduced hydropower capacity by 1,000 MW; forest fires threaten transmission lines that bring electricity to other states; and a fire at a San Francisco-area gas plant cut 300 MW of supply, state agencies said. All of this has worsened this year’s supply shortfall from what was expected months ago.
Last month, utilities Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric warned the State Utilities Commission of delays in several battery projects to store wind and solar energy during periods of strong demand. They said supply chain disruptions linked to the coronavirus pandemic delayed projects which were due to go live on August 1.
Company officials have not wanted to say how many have been delayed or predict when storage facilities will be ready.
On July 30, Newsom ordered the state to pay heavy energy users to reduce their consumption on the grid during an extreme heat wave by switching to back-up generators. These generally run on diesel.
The order also allowed ships to use auxiliary engines, often diesel, while being moored in port instead of plugging into the grid. It relaxed air quality requirements, limiting the amount of fuel natural gas power plants can use to generate electricity.
Newsom’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
A press release that accompanied the emergency proclamation focused on key California clean energy policies and said the ordinance “better positions the state to deal with the potential impacts of extreme heat, drought and fires next year “.
The ordinance ordered California’s air quality regulator to develop a plan by mid-November to mitigate any additional emissions through improving air quality in low-income communities . This could include investments in emission-free backup generation and technologies that use the batteries of electric vehicles to power the grid, a spokesperson for the California Air Resources Board said.
Environmental justice activists have said the state should pay low-income households, rather than polluters, to reduce consumption in the event of a grid emergency.
“We could pay people to set their air conditioning to 85 degrees on a hot day,” said Shana Lazerow, legal director of Communities for a Better Environment, in an interview.
Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by David Gregorio
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