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by Jeff St. John
May 02, 2019

Last week, the California Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved a major decision in its integrated resource plan proceeding. Launched in 2015, the IRP is the state’s first effort to guide the procurement of a long-term generation mix that will cost-effectively hit the state’s greenhouse gas and renewable energy goals while maintaining grid reliability. 

As befits the complexity of this task, Friday’s decision addresses many different parts of this process. At the high level, the CPUC approved a model “Preferred System Portfolio” for 2030, consisting of about 12 gigawatts of new generation that will allow the state to meet its needs — mostly solar PV, but also lots of wind power and battery energy storage, as well as geothermal power. 

This carbon-free portfolio is the output of a convoluted modeling process, meant more as a guide to future iterations of the IRP than an attempt to forecast California’s generation mix by the end of next decade. And while it doesn’t add any new natural gas-fired power plants, it also doesn’t call for closing those that remain in the state — at least not before their “essential reliability services” can be replaced with “reliable, low-carbon resources,” CPUC Commissioner Liane Randolph wrote in a Friday blog post. 

Even so, environmental and clean energy groups praised the CPUC decision as an important next step in integrating its long-range plans with the state’s greenhouse gas reduction commitments. Those include 2015 state law SB 350, which created the IRP, and last year’s SB 100, which calls for 60 percent renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2045 — a hard cutoff date for natural gas-fired power in the state. 

But the most notable part of the CPUC’s decision may be just how much of the state’s future generation will come from entities that barely existed 10 years ago — community choice aggregators, or CCAs. According to the CPUC, by 2030, investor-owned utilitiesalong with a presumably minor contribution from electric service providers serving the state’s commercial-industrial customer Direct Access market, “propose to invest in approximately 1,000 megawatts of new resources by 2030.” Meanwhile, “CCAs in aggregate propose more than 10,000 megawatts.”

The California Community Choice Association highlighted this 10-gigawatt figure in its press release on the IRP decision this week, calling it “a major vote of confidence in the critical role CCAs are playing in California’s rapidly evolving energy system.” 

But it’s also an unprecedented situation for California. And in reading last week’s filing, it’s clear this has made the CPUC anything but confident in the outsize role CCAs look set to play in the state’s future grid reliability.