Breakdowns Cut So. Cal’s Cheap Power Supply

By Published On: March 10, 2006

Southern California’s supply of electricity from relatively cheap, but polluting, coal and nuclear plants outside the state has been strangled. The shortages are expected to last into the early summer – costing ratepayers untold millions of dollars a month in replacement power. The shortages could exacerbate the potential for blackouts when the weather warms up. Meanwhile, replacing the power threatens to increase in-basin pollution from peaker plants when the Southern California smog season begins in May. “From a ratepayer perspective, we’d get much more bang for the buck if they focused on efficiency and also beefed up alternative generation,” said Bernadette del Chiaro, Environment California clean energy advocate, of the region’s utilities. Unit 1 at the Palo Verde plant has been operating at 25 percent capacity since Christmas because of a vibration in a shut-down cooling water pipe. It will continue at reduced power output until it is repaired in June, according to Jim McDonald, Arizona Public Service spokesperson. APS runs the Palo Verde facility. The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and Southern California Edison are both partial owners of that plant. Power from Unit 1 available to Edison has been cut from 196 MW to 49 MW. The capacity of Unit 1 to provide LADWP with power has declined from 71 MW to less than 18 MW, and for the other Southern California munis from 73 MW to a little over 18 MW. The loss of power from the nuclear plant has been coupled with coal power losses. A recent ice storm damaged the Southern Transmission Line, which brings power from the coal-fired Intermountain Power Project to LADWP and other munis in Southern California Public Power Authority territory. It will not be repaired for 14 weeks, reducing power deliveries from the 1,755 MW power plant. It sends 75 percent, or up to 1,316 MW, of its output to LADWP and the other Southern California munis. Both Edison and LADWP also have had to replace the output from the coal-fired Mohave power plant. The 1,580 MW plant ceased operating at the beginning of this year under a federal consent decree requiring Edison and other owners to either install air pollution controls or shut it down. Edison told the California Public Utilities Commission February 28 that unless it can modify the consent decree, the plant will be shut down for at least four years. During the shutdown, Edison loses 56 percent of the plant’s potential output, or 885 MW of capacity. LADWP loses 10 percent of the output, or 158 MW. For the time being, Southern California utilities are able to replace this power with power from other sources. However, those sources come at the cost of millions of dollars per month. Excluding externalities like the medical and societal price of pollution, coal power costs Southern California utilities between 2 cents and 4 cents/kWh, according to LADWP. Nuclear power can cost as little as 1-2 cents/ kWh, minus waste-storage, accident insurance, and other costs, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. Replacing the power otherwise provided by the Palo Verde nuclear plant alone is costing Edison customers $4.5 million a month so far, said Paul Klein, Edison spokesperson. If the outages continue into the summer, replacement power will be more expensive, he added. In response to the cuts, LADWP turned on its in-basin gas-fired power plants normally used only during the peak summer season, said Henry Martinez, the department’s assistant general manager for power. The plants are in standby mode to reduce their gas use. LADWP also is purchasing power to make up for the lost output from both the nuclear and coal plants, he said. He could not estimate the extra cost of power and natural gas to the department. LADWP is doing more to develop renewable power, said del Chiaro, but “they are giving short shrift to distributed generation and not realizing the benefits it could provide.” She said the department gets less than 1 percent of its energy from rooftop solar systems while importing half its electricity from out of state. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission status report for the week shows the 1,247 MW Palo Verde Unit 3 operating at 77 percent of capacity. The output from the 1,243 MW Unit 1 is split between its owners, which include Southern California Edison and several Southern California municipal utilities that are part of the Southern California Public Power Authority. Meanwhile, APS is continuing to investigate a leak from Palo Verde Unit 3, according to McDonald (Circuit, March 3, 2006). Last year, the grid operator and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission were concerned that supplies in Southern California would be short during the summer – and worried that the situation would be worse in summer 2006. The California Independent System Operator has yet to release its supply and demand predictions for this summer. The CPUC notes that, statewide, utilities under its jurisdiction have procured 90 percent of the expected demand for the summer.

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