JUICE: Timing

15 May 2018

Timing is everything.

Thus, it is noteworthy that it’s optimal timing to increase the amount of hydropower imports from the Bonneville Power Administration into California. This option has been talked about for a few years, but now the needles on California’s legal, policy and resources compasses point northwest.

If the capacity of the lines carrying Bonneville hydro into the state is increased, it would reduce greenhouse gases and help meet California’s carbon reduction goal. It also would better meet rising power demand, i.e. ramping needs, and offset high flows of solar power onto the grid. Of more significance is that the emissions-free power imports could curb reliance on gas-fired generation in Southern California, which faces supply pinches during very hot and cold days.

“It would be a game changer,” Bob Weisenmiller, California Energy Commission chair, said of increasing hydro imports during last week’s joint agency hearing on Southern California energy reliability.

Earlier, he and California Public Utilities Commission President Mike Picker sent a letter to the California Independent System Operator, urging it to include in its 2018-19 transmission planning process an assessment of what is needed to increase hydropower imports from the Pacific Northwest.

“It is time-critical that we act now to evaluate key options to increase transfer ratings of the AC and DC Intertie and assess what role these systems can play in displacing generation whose reliability is tied to Aliso Canyon,” the two agency heads wrote in a Feb. 15 letter to CAISO.

Last summer, loads on the Pacific AC and DC Interties rose partly to meet demand for some Aliso Canyon-dependent generation.

The grid operator agreed to include in its 2018-19 transmission plan a study of what would be needed to both raise the capacity on the high voltage lines that carry hydropower into Southern and Northern California and increase the amount of intra-hour transfers, known as dynamic transfer capability. The study is to include how to increase the existing capacity, the cost, and what automated controls are needed, the grid operator staff said at last week’s joint agency meeting.

The timing for growing Pacific Northwest hydropower imports is optimal today with California moving to cut greenhouse gases 40 percent below 1990 levels and Los Angeles seeking to reach a 100 percent renewable energy portfolio by 2030. More compelling is that four natural gas pipelines supplying Southern California are off line, aging coastal plants are being closed and the use of natural gas from the Aliso Canyon storage field is being phased out.

In addition, environmentalists and environmental justice advocates are realizing that increasing access to and use of Pacific Northwest hydro resources, as well as California’s hydroelectric dams, are important for reducing air emissions and gas dependence, V. John White, Center for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Technologies executive director, told me.

“Local need is the primary driver of gas burn in the Los Angeles Basin,” noted Liz Anthony,  CEERT director of grid policy.

It’s promising that the two state energy agency chiefs are aligned on getting more Pacific Northwest hydropower, assuming it is cost-effective, and CAISO is delving into the specifics of what would be needed. But, ensuring Southern California is able to tap into that hydropower also will require the grid operator and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power to work together to  remove barriers to those imports.

The Pacific DC intertie’s southern end connects to the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power’s territory. (Southern California Edison owns part of the line, but the muni operates it.)

“Identifying limitations between CAISO and LADWP in itself would likely result in displacement of gas in the LA Basin, along with enabling better coordination of the Pacific DC intertie,” CEERT, Renewable Northwest, and the NW Energy Coalition wrote in joint comments to the grid operator on its 2018-19 transmission planning proceeding.

Because CAISO and LADWP are two separate balancing authorities there are operational redundancies that can be minimized. In addition, the muni’s transmission is in need of upgrades. But, that is being dealt with because LADWP is required to upgrade its transmission to join the Western Energy Imbalance Market, which is now slated for April 2020.

Two other significant factors enhancing the timing for higher levels of imported hydropower include an ongoing revamp of the resource adequacy rules and legislation seeking to reduce emissions from generating facilities.

CAISO is reworking its flexible resource adequacy requirements to ensure that hydro imports bid into the market have financial security.

SB 64 by Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) was recently amended to direct a reduction in emissions from gas-fired power plants.

Given the timing is aligned on these hydro imports, California hopefully will timely expand its ability to use these low cost, non-polluting resources.

Elizabeth McCarthy

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