ORIGINAL REPORTING: California’s work to kick natural gas without letting the lights go out
California strives to nix its natural gas habit without letting the lights go out; The state relies on natural gas for reliability, but won't reach its 100% zero emissions goal without looking to alternatives.
Herman K. Trabish, Oct. 15, 2018 (Utility Dive)
Editor’s note: Since this story ran, California regulators have provided a 3-year RA contract and are working with policymakers and lawmakers on a new procurement entity.
When California's lawmakers mandated 60% renewables by 2030 and targeted zero emissions by 2045 in Senate Bill 100, passed in September, they took on never-before-answered questions about reliability. One of those questions is how to keep the lights on without natural gas at the most supply-constrained times and places. Instead of a capacity market, which many systems use to meet these spikes, California imposes a resource adequacy (RA) requirement on load serving entities (LSEs) that adds 15% extra generation to their portfolios. The natural gas generation that dominates today's RA supply cannot be part of a 100% emissions-free future. With its investor-owned utilities (IOUs) on track to reach 50% renewables by 2020, policymakers want to move natural gas out of the RA mix, despite resistance from natural gas interests.
"The fight in commission proceedings over natural gas is where the transition to a zero-carbon grid will happen," according to former utility executive Jim Caldwell, technical director for the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT). "We know where it will end, but not how to get there." California's natural gas fleet supplied only 33% of the state's 2017 electricity and is not growing, according to an August paper on California's natural gas from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). But almost half of natural gas plants serve supply-constrained times and places and will continue to be needed for RA unless clean energy alternatives can replace them. That has created a heated debate between policymakers. Some side with natural gas plant owners who say using unproven alternatives risks letting the lights go out. Their opponents say portfolios of distributed energy resources (DER) are ready to meet the most challenging demand spikes. And, they say, keeping natural gas owners in the RA business risks not achieving the state's clean energy targets…” click here for more