Report Points to Bureaucratic, Legal and Supply Chain Obstacles to Clean Grid

By Published On: October 7, 2021

Staff at the California Public Utilities Commission and Energy Commission are required by law and executive order to ratchet down emissions from the electricity sector and simultaneously add new generation to the grid. But a new CEC report points out several ways the agencies and grid operator’s own bureaucracies–as well as matters outside their control–are impeding their efforts.

Regulators and planners need to make record-setting supply additions, 15 GW, in just five years. They also must guarantee 100% reliable clean energy by 2045. But severe disruptions in the global supply chain brought on by the pandemic and clogs in the wheels of wind, solar and other energy technology manufacturing has made the climb to new resources steeper. In addition, there is intense competition in procuring batteries, most of which come from China, among car, battery storage and high tech and electronic manufacturers. These supply chain disruptions and constraints are expected to last into the “foreseeable future,” the report warns.

At the end of May, the California Public Utilities Commission ordered utilities and other energy providers to procure 11.5 GW of clean resources by 2026 to meet high demand as solar resources fall off the grid. The 11.5 GW is estimated to require 14 GW of capacity, given intermittency. The directive follows an earlier CPUC order for 3.3 GW of additional fossil and renewables. In addition, a total 24 GW of new resources are projected to be needed by 2030 because of the loss of 6 GW over the next five year due to aging nuclear and gas units, hotter temperatures and higher demand driven by the climate crisis, and lower imports because of higher electric load in other states.

In order to get new clean generation and the requisite transmission online in California to reduce the climate impacts of power supplies in a timely manner, there is widespread agreement that system changes are critical.

The report says it’s essential that the CEC, CPUC and grid operator coordinate more closely with each other on swifter permits and judicial review of siting challenges. They should also work more in concert to win government funding and move towards a regionalized grid.

Interconnections are still taking long times. The report recommends transparency on network upgrades and interconnection processes, so where and why work is being held up can be seen.

Confidentiality requirement blinders

The report also points out that employees at the CPUC and CEC are privy to project information that falls into the category of confidential business information. By law, they are forbidden from sharing it with the California Independent System Operator. But it includes critical energy planning information related to generation online dates.

The report suggests statutory changes to allow the CPUC and CEC to disclose limited confidential information on generation and energy storage to the CAISO for statewide planning purposes.

The report, required by SB 100, also raises concerns about the grid operator’s transmission project cluster queuing, which can put the brakes on projects lined up earlier.

It recommends focusing instead on individual projects that are ready to start the interconnection process. It also suggests creating incentives to get utilities and others to select solid and timely interconnection and transmission network upgrade projects.

Other suggestions in the report are to:

  • Consider whether the legislature should create a new entity to finance new energy and transmission.
  • Support the CAISO’s implementation of the Extended Day-Ahead Market. Moving beyond the estimated 5% of real-time power flows in the Energy Imbalance Market to optimize dispatch of all the resources in Western markets could save billions of dollars in meeting the high renewables and emissions reduction mandates across the region.
  • Continue working with tribes and other stakeholders to develop a responsible offshore wind industry, as called for by the newly signed AB 525.
  • Investigate funding sources other than ratepayers to support long-duration energy storage, green hydrogen and other emerging technologies.
  • Coordinate closely with the Western Area Power Administration to tap into its $3.25 billion revolving loan program.
  • Tap into some of the $65 billion in the pending American Jobs Plan allocated for rebuilding the nation’s electric grid and expanding renewable resources

An earlier CEC report in March recommended continued state support for research and innovation in clean energy technologies; prioritization of energy efficiency and load flexibility and addressing bottlenecks in project permitting and development.

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