by Jeff St. John
July 08, 2019

Back in May, we covered California’s integrated resource plan, the state’s effort to maintain a reliable grid as it expands its share of renewable energy over the coming decade. But as we noted at the time, the California Public Utilities Commission has been pushing for its IRP to address some shorter-term grid reliability issues as well — namely, the possibility that closing down natural-gas-fired power plants over the next few years could leave the grid without the resources it needs to meet its peak demands.

Late last month, the CPUC issued a ruling that officially opens a “procurement track” for its IRP proceeding that proposes several options to address that need. One option is likely to be welcomed by the state’s clean energy developers and environmental advocates — but two more are likely to draw significant opposition.

The first — and preferred — option is a new 2,000-megawatt procurement of “peak capacity” resources for California by mid-2021 by the state’s load-serving entities, a group that includes investor-owned utilities Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, as well as the community-choice aggregators that are taking up an increasing share of the state’s utility customer base. A procurement of this size may well be a welcome development for solar industry groups that have been pushing for new rules to boost the state’s utility-scale renewable energy market — if it allows for solar-plus-storage and other carbon-free resources.

But the ruling also proposes several alternative options likely to draw fire from clean energy advocates. One is to keep a number of once-through-cooling natural-gas plants on California's coast open past their scheduled closing date of 2021 — a big problem for those pushing for California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as fast as possible, as well as for the coastal communities that host these polluting power plants. Another is to order Southern California Edison to solicit 500 megawatts of capacity from “existing resources that are without a contract past 2021,” most likely a natural-gas-fired power plant.