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Energy New generators won’t prevent rolling blackouts

Power Plants Under Construction Won’t Provide Enough Energy; Some May not Be Built in Time

More electricity will be coming into the state this summer, but the bulk of it won’t be here on time.

In the next few months, several new projects will come online to provide more than 3,000 additional megawatts of capacity by July, and a total of 5,000 additional megawatts by September , enough energy to supply about 5 million homes.

However, one industry observer predicts none of the plants will be built or completed until the state’s energy crisis is solved through other means.

Even if they are completed and come online, chances are the energy they produce won’t save California from rolling blackouts this summer.

Claudia Chandler, a spokeswoman from the California Energy Commission, outlined some of the sources of new electricity.

Four major plants should be online this summer. They are the 500-megawatt Sutter Power Project in Sutter County, the 559-megawatt Los Medanos Energy Center in Contra Costa County and the 320-megawatt Sunrise Power Project in Kern County, plus the repowering of the Huntington Beach plant at 450 megawatts, Chandler said. There will also be 1,039 megawatts of new power from “peaker” plants throughout the state. These are smaller facilities run only in times of peak demand, she said.

Additional peakers may also come online. In February, Gov. Gray Davis put out a call for additional peaker plants to be licensed in a special 21-day emergency process. About 500 megawatts of peaker generation have already been licensed or are in the process, while Chandler expects to line up an additional 650 megawatts by the end of the month.

‘Peaker’ Plants

There are other, smaller sources. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is adding 267 new megawatts of energy from one of its own projects, while an additional 80 megawatts throughout the state will come from renewable energy sources, including solar power, wind turbines and biomass plants.

Still, that won’t be enough. In June, the forecasted peak load is expected to be 47,703 megawatts , but all the generation available from both in-state and out-of-state sources will be about 3,600 megawatts shy of that goal, said Sherri Petro, a business analyst with San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

Petro notes that throughout the summer, new generation will have to come online. But there will still be a 660 megawatt deficit in September , and part of it will be due to cooler weather, she said.

Steven Kelly, spokesman for Sacramento-based advocacy group Independent Energy Producers, said the bulk of the power will come only at the end of the summer. What’s more, a power plant can’t be flipped on like a switch.

Slow Start-Ups

“(It’s unlikely) all the megawatts associated with those new units will be available immediately. Usually, when you bring a new unit up, you have to bring it up kind of slowly,” he said.

That means these plants will not be able to assist the state in the first part of the summer season. For customers, that means one of two things, Kelly said.

“To the extent the state is short 3,000 megawatts, either the price goes very high, in order to lure out-of-state resources into the state, or there’s going to be rolling blackouts because you don’t have enough supply to meet demand,” he said.

With a shortage of 3,000 megawatts, California could experience a lot of rolling blackouts , with the intensity and frequency decreasing as the summer wears on, Kelly said.

That scenario is borne out by a statement from the North American Electric Reliability Council, a Princeton, N.J.-based nonprofit corporation promoting electric system reliability.

NERC agreed with the California Independent System Operator that increased conservation, sparked in part by recently approved rate increases, should reduce the energy shortfall. However, the group stated Cal-ISO’s projections were “optimistic.”

Shortage Underestimated

NERC projects that during times of peak demand, the state would experience shortages of about 4,500 to 5,500 megawatts, or about double the Cal-ISO’s estimates of 2,000 to 4,000 megawatts.

Also, the Cal-ISO has traditionally relied on hydroelectric power from the Pacific Northwest. But this year, California’s northern neighbors will have just barely enough resources to meet their own needs and will not have any leftover power to export, the report stated.

That could extend the periods of shortage into non-peak hours as well, the NERC report states.

Under an absolute worst-case scenario, the shortfall could be as much as 13,000 megawatts, twice the Cal-ISO’s estimate of 6,500 megawatts, the NERC report stated.

Michael Shames, executive director of the Utility Consumers’ Action Network, raised another issue. Although about a dozen power plants have been approved, with about another dozen power plants in the approval process, there’s no guarantee that these plants will, in fact, materialize.

‘No Confidence’

“I have no confidence that the plants approved for construction in California will, in fact, be built . (I’ve talked) to a number of generators. They all say that they will not build another plant in California until the energy crisis is resolved. And they don’t see that happening for another year,” he said.

Shames suspected there won’t be much construction until the state’s new “Power Authority” gets involved, referring to legislation Davis signed May 16.

The law, authored by state Sen. John Burton, D-San Francisco, creates a state authority that can finance, build or seize power plants in the state.


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