Acknowledging that reducing natural gas in the power stack is causing near-term worries about reliability, California regulators on Thursday took steps to bolster supplies for the next four years, including delaying the retirement of some gas-fired coastal, water-cooled generation plants.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) also ordered the major utilities and other load-serving entities, i.e. community choice aggregators, to collectively secure up to 3,300 MW of carbon-free generation to cover an expected shortfall in 2021-2023. Some of the added 3,300 MW may come from existing gas-fired sources, but no new facilities are planned.

The CPUC decision carries a recommendation to the California Water Resources Control Board, which is overseeing the ban on sea water-cooled electric generation, to extend the deadline for closing up to five coastal gas-fired plants that collectively represent 3,750 MW.

The water-cooled gas-fired plants identified for continuing operations are Alamitos Generating Station, units 3-5, with a combined 1,200 MW; Huntington Beach Generating Station, unit 2, 200 MW; Redondo Beach Generating Station, units 5, 6 and 8 with a combined 850 MW; and Ormond Beach Generating Station, units 1 and 2, with a combined 1,500 MW. Moss Landing in Central California also would get an extension, but it would not result in providing additional capacity.

Analyses by CPUC staff and stakeholders that include the California Independent System Operator identified "impending potential electricity shortages" caused by a variety of factors, including the gas-fired plant retirements slated for next year and a decrease in available reliable imported power, such Northwest hydroelectric supplies.

"These once-through-cooling resources were identified by stakeholders as essential to reliable electricity for California between 2021 and 2023, however, I do not seek these extensions lightly," said Commissioner Liane Randolph. The CPUC recognizes “that once-through-cooling units are not a resource we can continue to rely on going forward; it is our full expectation that those plants will close after these extension periods."

In addition to the three major investor-owned power utilities in the state, there are more than 36 community choice and direct-access power providers to which the CPUC order applies. The CPUC has said system resource adequacy and integration of added renewable sources would begin in 2021 and extend "through 2023 and beyond," Randolph said. State regulators expect more fossil fuel and nuclear plant retirements to continue in the next decade.

This latest move is part of the CPUC's integrated resource planning process examining near- and long-term electricity resource needs. Progress reports are to be delivered to the CPUC by mid-February.