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CA Looks for Answers to Early Signs of Power Reliability Crunch

CA Looks for Answers to Early Signs of Power Reliability Crunch

There was no shortage of hand-wringing and news media announcements in the West in the wake of recent electricity price spikes and multi-million-dollar estimated consequences from California's relatively modest round of rolling brownouts around the San Francisco Bay Area. The big question --- particular in California --- is whether new solutions will come from regulators, lawmakers or the market.

A report due Aug. 1 to California's Gov. Gray Davis on the recent managed series of power outages and some of the generating plant problems contributing to that will provide a clearer indication, but that assumes there are no recurring power peaks that strain the state's struggling electricity transmission grid.

A number of the state's merchant power plant developer/operators hope the reliability crunch will prompt state energy policymakers to accelerate the state's often cumbersome siting process for new gas-fired generating plants. However, a check of the current status of proposed plants, aside from five that have been approved (four under construction), indicates more, not less, time for approvals from the California Energy Commission.

A CEC project manager indicated last week that very few of the active pending applications are likely to be approved anytime soon, with the exception of a proposed new plant near Elk Hills co-sponsored by Sempra Energy and Occidental Petroleum and the remodeling of Duke Energy Services' Moss Landing plant along the central California coast. And those plants may not gain the go-ahead before the end of the summer at the earliest.

The delays of more than a year now for another Duke plant remodeling --- at Morro Bay, about 80 miles south of Moss Landing --- is an example of the predictment facing California. At the same time that local and environmental concerns delay the start of the state's formal siting application process, demands on the old generating facility targeted for remodeling have doubled since 1996 when it went on the sales block.

"The existing plant's production levels have increased 194% since 1996 due to the increasing demand for electricity in California," according to Duke officials. "We forecast the year 2000 production levels to be the highest since 1988."

Richard Nemec, Los Angeles

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