Coal-Fired Power Looms on State’s Energy Horizon

By Published On: April 10, 2004

Cheap, abundant coal may play a growing part in meeting California’s future energy demand, according to a new California Energy Commission report. The Electric Power Group’s outside analysis for the commission—”California Electricity Generation and Transmission Interconnection Needs Under Alternative Scenarios”—looks at factors expected to drive demand, including population increase, and the retirement of aging fossil-fueled and nuclear power plants. Limiting factors include the number and location of transmission projects and the range of resources available to meet demand through 2030. “Coal is plentiful and, on a delivered basis, cost an average of $1.25/MMBtu in 2001. California cannot ignore these facts in long-term generation and transmission planning,” the report notes. It also warns that the state’s failure to start moving on long-term energy planning may cause opportunities for new transmission interconnections to be lost. “Transmission is always playing ‘catch up’ to generation projects and will continue to do so unless the planning process is changed to encompass a long-term horizon.” “We need to have a debate on energy policy first, before building transmission lines,” said Rich Ferguson, Center for Energy Eficiency and Renewable Technologies research director. He also noted that the state’s energy scenario needs to be stripped down to its essentials. “Will it be coal, gas, or solar?” The study estimated that imported gas would feed 22 percent of total demand in 2025, with highest growth coming from power plants’ gas use. Gas consumption for power production is expected to leap 60 percent in 25 years or possibly double from current levels if new transmission lines are not built to meet load growth. If that were the case, more liquefied natural gas terminals and pipelines would be needed, “which may be very expensive.” Ways to avoid expected “high dependency on natural gas” include boosting renewable resources beyond the current 20 percent level mandated under the state’s renewables portfolio standard, increasing energy efficiency and conservation, “and increased imports fueled by abundant coal resources.” Currently, liquefied natural gas is in the $5/MMBtu range, considerably higher than coal. Other sources of energy imports that should be given a close look, according to the study, include power from Mexican plants connected to LNG in Baja California and gas and “clean coal-based generation from the fossil fuel rich regions of Utah-Wyoming.” The various energy future scenarios laid out in the report were the subject of an April 5 CEC workshop. One of the lead authors, Joe Eto of the Consortium of Electric Reliability Technology Solutions, said the scenarios presented were preliminary and unaccompanied by recommendations. The report, also coauthored by Vikram Budhraja, assumed the state’s population will reach 50 million over the next three decades, resulting in energy capacity requirements of 92 gigawatts, imports of 23 GW, in-state supplies of 69 GW, and an additional 26.5 GW of transmission.

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