California Will Add Gas-Fired Units to Increase Power Supply

The California Energy Commission (CEC) has approved licenses for gas-fired power units to help the state cope with continued electricity shortages. The move comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier declared a state of emergency for California’s power grid.

The state’s Dept. of Water Resources is procuring what it called five temporary gas-fueled generators, each with generation capacity of 30 MW, to install at existing power plants. The CEC on Aug. 17 approved licenses, good for up to five years, for the generators.

Newsom’s order, issued in July, is designed to free up additional energy capacity in the state. It came during a major heat wave and was partly in response to the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, which threatened the regional power transmission system and California’s power supply. The governor’s order suspends certain permitting requirements, and allows the use of backup power generation, with a goal of alleviating heat-related supply demands on the power grid.

‘Act Immediately to Achieve Energy Stability’

“Governor Newsom’s emergency proclamation makes it very clear that all of our energy agencies have to act immediately to achieve energy stability during this emergency as well as accelerating plans for construction, procurement and rapid deployment of new clean-energy and storage projects,” CEC commissioner Karen Douglas said at Tuesday’s meeting where the licenses for the gas-fired units were approved.

State regulators earlier this year expressed concern about adding new thermal power generation, saying it was at odds with California’s goals to decarbonize its power supply. The state in recent years has retired natural gas-fired power plants as part of a plan to have a carbon-neutral grid by 2045.

Heat waves in 2020 and again this year—along with concerns about electrical equipment sparking wildfires that have ravaged the state—have led California utilities to preemptively institute blackouts in order to protect the grid. The supply of power has been further threatened this year due to historic drought conditions that have reduced the state’s supply of hydroelectric generation.

Preferred Portfolio

Tuesday’s move by the CEC came one day prior to a ruling from a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) administrative law judge that recommended 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. That has led to an increased focus on renewable energy and energy storage projects in the state.

The CPUC earlier in August 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 extreme heat and drought conditions persist. The agency said the ongoing drought has cut 1,000 MW of hydroelectric power capacity this year, while wildfires continue to threaten transmission lines in the region.

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).


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