CEC Says LA Area Faces Scarce Power Reserves

By Published On: September 25, 2009

The Los Angeles region may not meet the state’s minimum 15 percent power reserve margin by 2011. The finger was pointed at a shortage of air pollution emissions credits stalling new power plant projects since 2006, by a preliminary California Energy Commission analysis released September 24. “We need solutions,” said commission member Jeff Byron, as he convened a workshop on the air credit shortage in Los Angeles. Reserve power is projected to drop to 12.8 percent in 2011, 8.7 percent in 2012, and 5.1 percent in 2013, even with more renewable power and enhanced customer enrollment in demand response and interruptible load programs aimed at efficiency and conservation negawatts. The commission hopes to break the impasse with policy recommendations in its 2009 Integrated Energy Policy Report. However, Dave Vidaver, CEC electricity analysis manager, said that the best the commission may be able to do is to simply frame the issue and provide a status report on its efforts. “If there is going to be any refrain today it’s that we need more study,” said Vidaver. The state considers the 15 percent reserve margin important to maintaining grid reliability. Once power reserves dip below that, power failures can occur more easily should a power transmission line or single power plant malfunction. Vidaver explained that the analysis is based on numerous assumptions. The biggest is that several coastal power plants that use once-through seawater cooling systems will close down under an expected state mandate. The State Water Resources Control Board is developing that policy to protect marine life. The Water Board’s goal is to phase out once-through cooling. This method of cooling kills marine organisms as water is taken into the power plants, warmed up as the water cools the turbines, and then discharged back into the ocean (Circuit, July 10, 2009). Under a draft policy, the Water Board wants generators to either retrofit to use dry-cooling technology or close down their coastal plants in the coming decade. Many operators are expected to close rather than retrofit their plants. Those facilities tend to be aging and inefficient. As they close, the Los Angeles area is expected to be faced with developing replacement sources of power. The total generating capacity of once-through cooled coastal plants serving the area is about 9,800 MW, according to CEC. “Retirement and replacement are going to require air emissions credits,” said Byron. But those credits are in short supply on the open market in Los Angeles and efforts to open new sources of credits in the highly polluted area are hamstrung in court (Circuit, Sept. 18, 2009). Southern California Edison faces the biggest potential impact due to conflicting environmental policies. On one hand, state entities call for plant closures to protect marine life, and on the other there’s an effective ban on new gas-fired replacement plants to protect air quality. It will take the company two years to plan how to meet both objectives, said Mark Minick, Edison resource planning and strategy manager. As steam turbine plants along the coast are closed, Minick said, the company needs to figure out how to maintain voltage throughout its system, as well as the inertia needed to accommodate high levels of imported power. This may necessitate storage batteries or other equipment to replace the energy now stored in the rotating turbines of the coastal power plants, he said. Still, a grid operator engineer said that transmission upgrade projects should increase the capacity to import power into the Los Angeles area and ultimately decrease the region’s need for locally produced power. As those lines are built one at a time, the increased transmission capacity may create imbalances within the region that temporarily increase the need for locally generated power along the coast, said Catalin Micsa, California Independent System Operator senior engineer.. Additional uncertainties include the pace at which renewable energy is developed, whether more cogeneration plants are built, and how much demand for energy changes, analysts told the commission.

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