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California Studies New Pipelines for Power

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 many pipelines."

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.

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 accurate."

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

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