After rolling blackouts, California regulators voted to let gas powered plants stay open a few more years

There were rolling blackouts in California last month on two consecutive days. The reason for the blackouts wasn’t a mystery. There was a heatwave across the region and as the sun went down and California’s solar generation started to fade, the California Independent System Operator (Cal ISO) simply couldn’t find enough power from other sources to meet the demand. The blackouts were ordered to prevent the entire grid from entering a brownout.


Several outlets including NPR and the Wall Street Journal made the point that California’s push for green energy was partly responsible for the situation. In fact, as the LA Times pointed out, the California Public Utilities Commission had been warning about this exact scenario since last year.

Staff at the California Public Utilities Commission recommended this month that four natural gas plants in Southern California, which are now required to shut down in 2020, be allowed to keep operating up to three additional years. Without the gas plants, PUC staff said, the state may face power shortfalls as soon as summer 2021 — specifically on hot days when energy demand remains high after the sun goes down and solar farms stop generating electricity…

But at the time, critics of extending the life of natural gas plants denied there was any danger of blackouts:

Loretta Lynch, a former president of the Public Utilities Commission, thinks the whole exercise would be a waste of ratepayer money.

Lynch said extending the coastal gas plants and requiring energy providers to buy thousands of megawatts of new power — purchases that could include additional natural gas — would be “diametrically opposed to state goals.” The PUC has presented “zero evidence” of a need for new power, she said…

“Everybody knows we’re got plenty of power,” she said…

Shelley Luce, president of the environmental nonprofit Heal the Bay, said she wants to see the four coastal gas plants shut down and replaced with renewable energy.


Oops! Not only did the rolling blackouts happen, they happened a full year earlier than anticipated.

Perhaps recalling what rolling blackouts did for the career of former governor Gray Davis, current governor Gavin Newsom quickly held a press conference to say that the situation was unacceptable and wouldn’t happen again.

In light of the fact that the Public Utilities Commission had been proven right, the State Water Resources Control Board voted to keep several natural gas plants in southern California operating for a few extra years:

State officials threw a lifeline to four fossil fueled power plants along the Southern California coast, deciding the facilities are still needed to provide reliable electricity even as they contribute to the climate crisis…

Energy regulators are still investigating the causes of the power shortage. But they said allowing the coastal gas plants to stay open a few more years would help prevent more outages as California continues its transition to cleaner energy sources — an ironic solution given that climate change almost certainly exacerbated the recent heat wave.

The four facilities were supposed to shut down by Dec. 31, 2020 under a regulation requiring coastal power plants to stop using ocean water for cooling, a process that kills fish and other marine life. But Tuesday’s decision granted a three-year extension to natural gas plants in Huntington Beach, Long Beach and Oxnard, and a one-year extension to a Redondo Beach plant.


I think there’s a pretty clear lesson here about rushing toward 100% renewable energy with a system that can’t quite handle current energy requirements. The mayor of California’s largest city issued another FlexAlter on Sunday asking people to turn off lights and appliances:

In case you’re wondering, Los Angeles hit a high of 109 degrees on Sunday around noon. It was still around 105 degrees at 3 pm and the mayor is hoping you’ll use a fan so we aren’t forced into rolling blackouts again. Here’s Rep. Crenshaw’s reaction:

Note: The photo above shows a newly built gas power plant in Huntington Beach. The plant was approved in 2017 and went online in February of 2020. One of the plants whose life has been extended is the older one on the same site which was built in the 1960s. It’s just visible on the right side of the image.


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