California Studies New Pipelines for Power
As the list of planned new natural gas-fired power plants in
California lengthens, state officials have begun to survey the
deliverability of resources to fuel those plants.
"We're in the process of redoing our projections, as we do every
two years, and we can see the possibility of some additional
pipelines coming into California," said Dan Nix, deputy director,
energy information and analysis, for the California Energy
Commission. "At this point, I can't tell you what time frame or how
The state depends on supplies from outside the state for 80% of
its gas requirements. Gas supply and deliverability problems
increasingly carry greater impact on power system reliability for
The state energy commission's primary role is the siting of new
power plants. As an adjunct, the agency does ongoing energy supply
and demand studies, including analyses of renewable energy and
energy efficiency programs. The California Public Utilities
Commission concentrates on energy infrastructure operations, policy
and pricing, such as its ongoing efforts to complete unbundling of
both electricity and natural gas.
The state's nearly 18-month-old natural gas restructuring
proceedings, however, have not examined how the gas infrastructure
and supply availability will mesh with an increasingly
nonstate-regulated power generation sector. Similarly, in the
energy commission proceedings to OK new power plants, there is no
assessment made about the adequacy of the plant developers' gas
supply contracts. The market increasingly will be making these
determinations, according to Nix. In a general supply and price
context, Nix said, California keeps track of broad-based resource
developments, using the "North American Regional Gas Model," which
he says over the past 10 years have proven to be "surprisingly
Noting that except for one 80 MW, coal-fired plant, all the
current merchant power plants proposed nationwide are supposed to
be fired by natural gas. "I don't know if that is good or bad news,
but I know that gas burns very cleanly and we have some developers
that are talking about building plants with one- or
two-parts-per-million of NOx emissions and no others to speak of.
These are extremely clean plants and they are much more efficient
than the old ones they are going to be replacing."
Nix said that predictions on the amounts of increased gas loads
required by new power plants in the state can be made with a
relatively high degree of certainty, but the reliability of future
gas supplies will be impacted by other factors, such as the volumes
diverted to transportation uses; distributed power plants off the
grid and the impact of price swings.
In California, the electric grid's state-chartered, quasi-public
Independent System Operator, with the assistance of Pacific Gas and
Electric, has completed a study this year examining the impact of
extremely cold weather, spiking the use of gas for space heating,
on the gas pipeline network's ability to keep pipelines serving
electric generation plants full. The study supposedly identifies
some strategically located generation plants that may need a dual
fuel-such as oil-for backup in an emergency. Another scenario being
examined, Nix said, looks at potential bottlenecks in the state gas
transmission pipeline system.
"You can't say that there are not any [potential bottlenecks],"
he said. "We have 29 [merchant power plant] projects in some form
of development - four or five in the Bakersfield area alone. If all
of those are built, it is very likely someone would have to augment
the gas pipeline system in that area. It is really a function of
how many [generation plants] and where."
Richard Nemec, Los Angeles