In July, California Governor, Gavin Newsom, declared a state of emergency for the state’s power grid, in response to a major heat wave and the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, which threatened the regional power transmission system and California’s power supply.
In August the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) said California faces potential energy shortfalls of up to 3,500 MW in the coming weeks, and as much as 5,000 MW next summer, should the extreme heat and drought conditions persist. The agency said the ongoing drought has already cut 1,000 MW of hydroelectric power capacity this year, and wildfires continue to threaten the transmission lines within the region. You may recall our article on the Hyatt Powerplant being shutdown due to the low lake level conditions at Lake Oroville.
But state regulators, earlier this year, had expressed concerns about adding new thermal power generation, saying it was at odds with California’s goals to decarbonize its power supply. In recent years, California has been retiring its natural gas-fired power plants as part of a plan to have a carbon-neutral grid by 2045. But the heat waves in 2020 and again this year – along with concerns about electrical equipment sparking wildfires that have ravaged the state – forced the California utilities to preemptively institute blackouts in order to protect their grid.
Since then, the California Energy Commission (CEC) has approved licenses for gas-fired turbine generators to help the state cope with its continued electricity shortages despite a ruling from a CPUC administrative law judge recommending the state adopt a preferred electricity resource portfolio. That ruling said the power generation sector should work to limit its annual greenhouse gas emissions to 38 million metric tons by 2030. The licenses that were approved by the CEC are for five temporary natural gas-fired turbine generators (30 MW each) – similar to the picture below – that the state’s Department of Water Resources is procuring to install at existing power plants. The governor’s order suspended certain permitting requirements and now allows for the use of backup power generation, with a goal of alleviating the heat-related supply demands on the power grid.