Regulators in California on Monday moved to avoid natural gas supply problems this summer in two separate actions that include expanding volumes available for withdrawal at the heavily scrutinized Aliso Canyon underground storage facility.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) also is seeking more details on the lingering transmission pipeline outages in Southern California to determine if investigatory and/or ratemaking actions are needed.
After going into last fall's winter heating season (Nov. 1) with three major pipelines out of service, the CPUC appears intent on smoothing out summer peak power loads and ensuring there is enough supply for electric generation.
"Pipeline capacity has not improved appreciably since winter 2017-18," CPUC said.
CPUC’s Edward Randolph, energy division director, wrote to Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) officials asking for them to address storage and pipeline concerns. He also is seeking more information on the "extent to which certain SoCalGas pipelines remain out of service," to determine how the closed facilities are accounted for in the Sempra Energy gas utility's finances and rates.
Randolph noted that CPUC staff has recommended increased gas storage volumes being made available at Aliso by up to 34 Bcf from 24.6 Bcf that is now authorized for withdrawal.
SoCalGas has been asked to provide to CPUC by June 29 information on the pipelines as regulators consider an investigation and assess utility rate adjustments for the prolonged down time for the transmission lines. The major focus is on Line 3000, which has been down since July 2016, and Line 235-2, which ruptured last October.
While Line 3000 is expected to return to service in September, "SoCalGas has been unable to establish a date for when Line 235-2 will return to services," Randolph said in his letter to SoCalGas COO Bret Lane.
"SoCalGas is reviewing the CPUC's letter and has been and will continue to work diligently to safely assess, repair and restore service to the pipelines as quickly as possible," said a SoCalGas spokesperson, who acknowledged that the utility has "unanticipated pipeline outages and capacity reductions" affecting its gas system.
Ultimately, the CPUC has to determine if SoCalGas has had pipelines that cannot be considered "used and useful," and therefore should be taken out of rates.
For Aliso, regulators laid out their plans to increase withdrawal volumes and maximize efficiencies at the state's largest storage facility, spread over 3,200 acres.
A SoCalGas spokesperson agreed that "hoping for mild weather” this summer “is not a prudent thing to do." Sufficient storage inventory is the answer, and the CPUC proposal is the correct approach, according to utility officials.
"The cold snap we experienced in late February and early March demonstrated the importance of local gas storage to the reliability of our energy systems," the spokesperson said. "We remain committed to continue to work with state regulators and to encourage policies that promote reliability and protect consumers against higher energy costs."
Meanwhile, the CPUC has published the joint agency task force's 2018 summer supplemental report, "Aliso Canyon Working Gas Inventory, Production Capacity, Injection Capacity, and Well Availability for Reliability."
The report makes the case for the increase in withdrawal volumes in response to the continuing pipeline outages and impacts they have had on inventories at other storage facilities. The report also calculated whether a monthly 1-in-10 peak day demand could be met with current forecasted inventory levels and the limited injection capacity by storage fields other than Aliso.