Three Energy Commission White Papers examine California’s electricity supply

9 August 2004 – Last November, the California Energy Commission sent Governor Schwarzenegger and the Legislature the “Integrated Energy Policy Report,” a comprehensive look at all types of energy in the State. By November 2004, the Energy Commission will give these policymakers a 2004 Update that focuses on sources of renewable energy, transmissions lines and outdated power plants.

As part of the ongoing process to help government understand the State’s changing electricity picture and to better make decisions that will secure supplies in the future, the Energy Commission has just released draft staff white papers that examine these three key aspects of the State’s electricity supply and demand.

The three papers detail the complexities of adding new renewable sources of electricity, planning transmission upgrades to meet California’s changing needs, and dealing with the retirement of aging power plants. Later this month, the Energy Commission will hold workshops to gather comments and to form recommendations for both the Energy Commission’s 2004 Update and the upcoming 2005 Integrated Energy Policy Report, due in November 2005.

Here are highlights of the three reports:

“Accelerated Renewable Energy Development”

To help insure a diverse mix of electricity supplies for the state, the Energy Commission staff stresses the need for a more vigorous and long-term development of renewable energy sources beyond 2010. By that year, California, through a renewables portfolio standard, expects to produce 20 percent of its electricity from the sun, wind, biomass and other renewable sources.

In this white paper, the staff highlights industry trends and policy responses that can affect the rate of growth of new renewable energy investments in California. If new ventures in renewable energy suffer a slowdown, the fuel supply for California’s electricity is expected to become increasingly dependent on natural gas. To avoid losing momentum, the white paper recommends setting post-2010 goals for more fully developing the potential of renewable resources.

“Upgrading California’s Electric Transmission System: Issues and Actions for 2004 and Beyond”

This staff paper identifies the need for new transmission projects in California, details impediments in the current transmission planning process, and describes the next steps needed to improve the efficiency of a new, collaborative, statewide State’s transmission permitting process.

New transmission projects are needed to bring power from new renewable energy sources to the electrical grid. Additional lines must be built to maintain and enhance the reliability of the entire system, and to ensure adequate power supplies in bottlenecked areas like San Francisco. The paper notes that electrical transmission lines often cross multiple jurisdictional boundaries, adding controversy to the projects and complicating the licensing process.

The paper points out the need to plan corridors for transmission projects well in advance so that the land is available when the time comes to put in a transmission line. Another key recommendation is for planners to evaluate early in the planning process alternatives to new transmission lines . alternatives such as distributed generation and demand reduction through energy efficiency.

“Resource, Reliability and Environmental Concerns of Aging Power Plant Operations and Retirements”

At least 22 power plant sites in California have generating units that are between 26 and 62 years old. These 66 different generating units use outdated technology that makes them less fuel- and cost-efficient than newer, cleaner plants. Yet, as electricity demand grows, California remains dependent on these older plants for summertime peak power.

This third staff white paper discusses the effect these aging plants can have on local reliability and on the State’s overall power grid. It examines the factors that can lead power generators to retire the less-efficient plants, and assesses the effects that our continued reliance of older plants can have on system reliability, natural gas use, electricity prices, and the environment.