Juice: Naughty & Nice

By Published On: December 21, 2012

Like St. Nick’s reindeer, Current staff gets taken out of the corral once a year. Unlike our ruminant friends, we don’t have to spend our holiday season hauling a big guy around the world at 30,000 feet. Instead, we pick our 2012 Naughty & Nice nominees: Nice Auld Lange Syne for coal in California and the West. The surge in supply and drop in cost of natural gas, coupled with environmental mandates, caused the formerly cheap black rock to reveal an inner core of Dickensian proportion. The cost of installing pollution control equipment makes some coal plants uneconomical, pushing the closure of several aging ones in the West. The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power got in the spirit of things early this year to celebrate its greenhouse gas emissions-lite diet. It plans to cut back its coalories from out-of-state power plants ahead of schedule. Participation in the Navajo and Intermountain coal-fired plants in Arizona and Utah respectively is expected to be terminated early. The 1,800 MW Intermountain power project may be converted to natural gas and L.A. is working to divest itself of its 477 MW interest in the Navajo facility. The California Independent System Operator streamlined the interconnection process for small distributed solar projects. Launched in mid-May, the grid operator allows distributed generation to “obtain deliverability status in about half the time as the current process,” according to CAISO. That allows the generation to count towards utilities’ supply cushion requirements. Getting interconnected to the grid is a major hurdle for renewable developers. The California Public Utilities Commission kept the public funds flowing through the Electric Program Investment Charge to low-income assistance, energy efficiency, and renewables development. After the Legislature voted to shut down the funding program created during the deregulation era at the California Energy Commission, the governor directed state regulators to step in and keep those funding lights from going out. Cheers to the U.S. military’s evergreen plans for using less fossil fuel at many bases because of significant energy efficiency and renewable installations. By 2020, the Navy hopes to have half its massive power come from non-fossil resources. Thanks for thought-provoking Current guest editorials, including opinion pieces by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), Division of Ratepayer Advocates acting director Joe Como, PG&E senior vice president Tom Bottorff, former CalEPA director Terry Tamminen, environmental lawyer Jon Welner, California Farm Bureau director of taxation and land use John Gamper, CAISO spokesperson Steven Greenlee, Independent Energy Producers policy director Steven Kelly, MRW & Associates principal William Monsen, Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin, former California Energy Commissioner John Geesman. and former Current pundit (now California Public Utilities Commission senior regulatory analyst) Arthur O’Donnell. Nukes benefit the coast in absentia with San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station’s shut down meaning that less water is being consumed to cool the plant, thus, less damage to marine flora and fauna. Diablo Canyon was turned down by the Coastal Commission for heavy-duty sonic blasts for seismic data gathering--sparing, at least for this year, fisheries, whales, and those darn cute otters. Community choice aggregation gave some localities the hope of regaining control of their electricity source and management. After Marin Clean Energy started the ball rolling last year, Richmond (Contra Costa County) joined Marin this year. San Francisco began its own aggregation program in 2012. Sonoma is actively pursuing it. Naughty Not-so-smart meters were big colorful gifts to the utilities. The $5 billion-plus in ratepayer investment slashed the number of utility meter readers but left ratepayers’ stockings empty because of a lack of access to real-time energy info. Digital meters are being eclipsed by other gadgets like smart phones. The industry is moving to different communications protocols, which use the Internet as a gateway to control home energy instead of smart meters. San Onofre’s shutdown means no rate reduction for ratepayers. Instead it increases grid operator costs--which are passed through. It took the California Public Utilities Commission a very long time indeed to decide it should even look into the concept of imposing its “used and useful” doctrine. The investigation into whether the costs of a non-functioning plant should remain in ratebase began only last month. It will take a long time for a decision on whether ratepayers should continue to shell out for service not rendered. The Division of Ratepayer Advocates estimates it’s costing $54 million/month for replacement power. Pacific Gas & Electric’s inability to make its gas pipeline system behave plagues both regulators and the utility. Current realizes PG&E has a big geographic nightmare--its pipes stretch over rugged northern territory hills and through highly populated dales. It needs eight reindeer, 2,000 smart “pigs,” and a zillion forensic accountants to straighten things out to make the explosive character of what warms our hearth less dangerous. Money continues to be thrown at it, but there’s no end to revelations of bungling. A plan approved by regulators Dec. 20 aims to address deficiencies. State revenue fell short from the carbon cap-and-trade program’s first greenhouse gas emissions rights auction. It came in at $56 million--not $333 million. If things go the same way in the two remaining auctions of this fiscal year, the state will fall 83 percent short of its goal of raising $1 billion in cash by auctioning carbon emissions rights. JP Morgan used brawny, not brainy, lawyers to handle its disputes with the state grid operator over the trading profits under the tree. Briefs filed by JP Morgan Energy Ventures to stall producing documents were so bad they were comic. Lawyers disputed trades earlier this year at the California Independent System Operator. In the latest round, JP Morgan admitted, oopsey, that it made a “mistake” and should have produced the documents. The Hydrogen Energy California plant--a 300 MW “clean” coal power plant planned for Kern County--presents more than coal and soot, courtesy in part of a $408 million federal subsidy. Occidental Petroleum would use carbon dioxide captured at the coal-powered plant then pump it into the ground of a nearby depleted oil field to squeeze out more petroleum. About 3 million tons of carbon dioxide is planned for annual injection, where it ostensibly would be trapped in rock forever. That would help Oxy produce about $15 billion worth of otherwise unobtainable oil over the life of the project, which would release 2.58 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year when it’s burned in vehicles. The plant also would produce fertilizer and other chemicals, bringing in an estimated $350 million annually, equal to the amount of revenue expected from selling the plant’s power. These and other numbers have led some to say that the plant really is a chemical factory that should be permitted as such instead of being permitted as a power plant.

Share this story

Not a member yet?

Subscribe Now