California’s race to secure its grid against summer blackouts

Canary Media

California may be able to get through the coming summer without facing a repeat of last August’s rolling blackouts — if the weather cooperates.

But if the state faces another regionwide heatwave, it will need to rely on gigawatt-hours’ worth of newly installed batteries, a smaller but significant amount of extra natural-gas-fired power plant capacity, and a bigger commitment from customers to curtail electricity use during peak evening hours to ride through the emergency.

California’s investor-owned utilities and community choice aggregators have also contracted for about 1.7 gigawatts of capacity set to be online by August 2021 — almost all of it batteries — to meet the CPUC’s 2019 mandate to secure 3.3 gigawatts of new resources by 2023. Ironically, that 2019 order was aimed at quickly replacing capacity that was slated to be lost due to the retirement of gas-fired power plants along the Southern California coast — plants that had their closure postponed for several years after last summer’s grid crisis.

Ed Randolph, deputy executive director for energy and climate policy at the California Public Utilities Commission, highlighted during a May 4 briefing on the state’s summer preparations that the steps being taken independently of CPUC action that are boosting the potential demand-side relief that could help the grid this summer. Marin Clean Energy and East Bay Community Energy, two of the state’s rapidly expanding roster of community choice aggregators, have launched programs that are enlisting customers outside of California’s existing resource adequacy constructs, for example.

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