California’s latest power grid problems are just the start


The reality, however, is much more complicated.

California’s recent decisions to delay the shutdown of its last nuclear power plant and extend the life of some natural gas-fired facilities underscore what officials and experts are saying is that the state who has the most ambitious energy targets is far from achieving them.

Growing demand for electricity and the unstable nature, for now, of greener technologies such as wind and solar make it difficult to progress toward the state-mandated goal of a 100 percent zero-emissions grid. by 2045. Renewables have provided 36% of the state’s power supply on average so far this year.

These constraints were behind the Legislature’s recent decision, at Newsom’s urging, to postpone the withdrawal of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant despite activists believing they had secured its closure — and the governor he himself once supported the idea.

The 10 days of triple-digit temperatures across the state this month have sent demand for electricity to a record high, leading state regulators to the verge of ordering blackouts, a decision potentially deadly and a political disaster.

It was the realization of a nightmare scenario that a senior state energy official said he had been contemplating for months.

“Oh, my lord, we’re in a really bad spot compared to even the worst-case scenario we anticipated,” said Siva Gunda, vice chairman of the California Energy Commission, recalling thinking about the spring, when the delays supply chain and a tariff on solar imports – compounded by a severe drought – have started to look like a years-long energy crisis.

The possibility of power outages has become a shadow hanging over California Democrats, even those who felt uncomfortable keeping Diablo Canyon open. Some have spoken publicly about how the blackouts contributed to the dismissal of the government of the day. Gray Davis at the turn of the century.

What is needed now, officials say, is even more investment from the state, like the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II.

“Not enough is being done right now” to avoid a worrying gap in electricity supply in the future, said Sen. John Laird, a Democrat from Santa Cruz, who has argued the state needs new massive investments in renewable energies and batteries to get out of fossil fuels.

“We have to make sure we have more wind, we have more solar, we really develop offshore wind, push some of the renewables out of the way so they’re brought into the grid,” Laird said.

The stakes are existential. After the Enron power trade scandal and ensuing Western energy crisis 20 years ago, the state’s reputation was in tatters and a governor was recalled. But California has quickly emerged as a model for adopting wind and solar power, becoming the yardstick against which other states benchmark their own climate ambitions.

Now, according to a state estimate, California will need to deploy renewable energy at five times its average rate to meet its goal of 100% emissions-free electricity by 2045. All this while dealing with rising temperatures, drought and forest fires.

This uncomfortable reality gave Laird sleepless nights, he recalled in an interview. He is a close friend of people who have fought for decades to shut down the nuclear plant, fearing there could be an accident along the seismically active central coast, among other concerns.

He finally voted to keep Diablo Canyon open, a tough decision, he said, was driven by projections that California wouldn’t have enough new wind and solar power in time to make up for its shutdown. The last-minute scramble by Newsom and the legislature could delay the plant’s demise until 2030, reversing a deal struck six years ago between green groups, workers and regulators to shut it down in 2025. nuclear provides up to 10% of the state’s electricity. .

Laird sees the delay, which requires federal government approval, as a stopgap measure that shouldn’t hinder a massive buildup of renewables.

“We need it anyway,” he said of the injection of renewable energy. “If Diablo is extended, we need it. If it’s not extended, we need it. And one of the reasons we’re here is that there aren’t enough uploads.

The state senator’s district is a microcosm of California’s energy transition. Criss-crossed by high-voltage transmission lines, the area includes not only the heavily fortified Diablo Canyon, nestled out of sight among the green hills along the ocean, but also the first offshore wind farm project on the Western coast. Projects like this are meant to help the state get rid of all carbon emissions – if they can be built in time.

Workers along the Central Coast have a long history of building energy projects and see the state’s grid challenges as an opportunity, Dawn Ortiz-Legg, a San Luis Obispo County supervisor, said in an interview. in Morro Bay, the sleepy fishing village that is set to host the floating offshore wind turbines 20 miles from its shores. The The county official previously helped turn homebuilders into workers who built large solar farms that helped pull the county out of recession.

Behind Ortiz-Legg stood three iconic smokestacks shrouded in fog at a closed power plant that once burned coal and gas. Now, in a fitting metaphor, they would have to descend to make way for a proposed battery facility that would store renewable energy.

Ortiz-Legg said she was fine with postponing the shutdown of the nuclear power plant – but only temporarily. Now she’s calling on heads of state to act with more urgency to ensure Diablo Canyon can be closed, under the new plan, in 2030.

“It’s really important to note that in 2001, 2002, when California had its energy crisis, gas plants were licensed in 20 days,” she said.

The tight schedule makes Jane Swanson skeptical. Resident of the neighborhood, she has been fighting the nuclear power plant since the 1970s for the sake of nuclear waste and seismic safety, as part of the organization Mothers for Peace. She had been anxiously waiting for Pacific Gas & Electric, which runs the plant, to shut it down and now fears the future will bring more broken promises.

“You can’t believe a word from PG&E,” Swanson said. “You can’t believe a word from the politicians. So I don’t believe that any future agreement or end date will be met because we had those dates and they are not being met.

Last year, state energy regulators ordered utilities to add more clean power to the grid over the next three years than ever before. But building and connecting solar panels and wind turbines largely depends on the whims of the global economy.

California energy officials went into crisis mode this spring when pandemic-related supply chain issues and a new retroactive tariff on solar panels cast a veil over the industry, delaying energy projects revolving that they relied on before Diablo Canyon retired.

No one disputes that an extra margin of safety is needed, said Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of energy for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Yet, he argued, the governor prematurely locked down Diablo Canyon instead of pursuing alternatives such as boosting energy efficiency and extracting more energy from other western states.

California Republicans, meanwhile, prefer the nuclear power option.

“If the plant goes out of service, we won’t have enough juice to keep the lights on and the air conditioners running and the electric vehicles charged,” said Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, the Republican who represents the central coast and thinks the plant should continue to operate. even longer.

Cunningham also broadly supports California’s climate goals and helped shape the ambitious offshore wind goal for the state.

“I think in five years we’ll be in a better place, with renewables coupled with the storage we need to run a modern power grid, but we’re not there yet,” he said. declared.

Representative Salud Carbajal, a Democrat representing the region, has yet to take a position on the plant expansion. But he urged Newsom to consider the local implications of keeping it open, including earthquake safety.

Central Coasters had argued for decades over Diablo Canyon’s role, but until recently they thought the debate was over. Employees made retirement plans. Plant construction slowed as PG&E began preparing to shut down the twin reactors. Ecologists observed the land around the plant.

An extension would upset those plans.

In an interview, Carbajal said he also wondered if it would hinder the development of nearby offshore wind farms.

“I’m not one of those people who’s going to say, ‘oh, you know, it’s done and done,'” he said, referring to the Diablo Canyon debate. “There are a lot of moving parts.”

By 2045, state officials want offshore wind to produce 25% of California’s electricity, a more ambitious goal than any other state.

But even the most optimistic people recognize that these wind turbines won’t start producing electricity for the grid until at least 2029, just before Diablo Canyon’s new shutdown date.


POLITICO

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