State’s Biggest Munis Strive for Carbon Lite

By Published On: January 30, 2014

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series on California’s public power agencies’ alternative energy resources. Like their private utility brethren, California’s biggest publicly owned utilities are hiking up the 33 percent renewable portfolio slope, increasing energy efficiency, and decreasing greenhouse gases. So too are the state’s smaller municipal agencies and irrigation districts. “Going forward, our carbon intensity will be reduced by almost half as we reduce our coal resources,” said Mike Webster, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power assistant director of power system planning and development. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District is striving to slash its greenhouse gases by 90 percent from 1990 levels by midcentury. “We are looking at different ways to meet this goal but expect that renewables and efficiency will play a significant role towards meeting that goal,” said Chris Capra, Sacramento spokesperson. California’s 40 municipal utilities provide about one-fourth of the power consumed in the state. Of that, the two biggest—LADWP and SMUD—provide almost 56 percent of munis’ retail electricity. Los Angeles, which serves 1.4 million customers, has a power portfolio that is 20 percent renewable to date. It has been working to phase out its reliance on coal, which supplies 33 percent of its power today, down from a high of 50 percent the last decade. Not only is it ramping up renewables and energy efficiency, it’s modernizing old, inefficient, gas-fired plants to end the use of large quantities of marine water for cooling spinning turbines, Webster said. The department is phasing out its interests in two coal power plants, one by 2015 and the other by 2025. Los Angeles’ Webster said the state’s biggest muni has bolstered its renewable supplies, largely with wind power. Going forward to 2018, Los Angeles is concentrating on developing solar and geothermal energy facilities, he continued. After 2018, it plans to focus largely on more geothermal energy. Of the department’s renewable supplies, 13 percent comes from wind turbines, 5 percent from biomass facilities, and 2 percent from small hydropower plants. Efficiency meets 5 percent of the department’s peak power needs. It’s targeted for 10 percent by 2020. However, the department believes efficiency could play a potentially bigger role, explained Webster. A roadmap study due in the coming months could show the way for the Los Angeles muni to meet up to 15 percent of its energy needs through efficiency by 2020, according to its December 2013 integrated resource plan. Los Angeles also is looking to ramp up demand response programs from 60 MW to 200 MW by 2020, according to the plan. LADWP projects in its plan that meeting energy efficiency and renewable energy goals will boost the cost of power by more than 5 cents/kWh by 2020, up from about 13 cents/kWh today. Overall, regulatory programs—from renewable and energy efficiency standards to phasing out once-through water cooling for generation facilities and other requirements to address environmental concerns—will represent about half of the department’s rate increases over the next 20 years, according to Webster. Monthly bills for the average household are expected to grow from more than $60 to more than $120. The Sacramento municipal utility’s power supplies are about 25 percent renewable and it continues to invest in energy efficiency. Its non-fossil portfolio is made up of a mix of resources. Biomass is the largest contributor, projected at 15 percent of its total energy portfolio in 2013, up from 12 percent in 2012. Wind energy supplies make up 7 percent, small hydro 2 percent, and 1 percent is from solar resources. Sacramento plans to meet the state’s 2020 mandate of one-third renewables before the end of this decade ideally. Beating 2020 depends on “future supplies coming on line as scheduled,” Capra noted. In this year’s and the 2015 budgets, new renewable projects and contracts are expected to add $39 million, with $30 million of that in SMUD’s $1.2 billion 2014 budget. “That represents about 3 of the 5 percent total rate adjustment over the two years,” which was approved last year, according to Capra. The state’s second largest muni, serving 600,000 customers, continues to increase energy efficiency by 1.5 percent a year. In 2011-12, it slashed peak use by 21.5 MW, and saved 162,380 MWh. Sacramento’s demand-response target is 275 MW by 2020. Currently it has 81 MW of dispatchable demand-response, Capra said. Power reductions under this program are from residences and a large industrial facility.

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