While stressing preferences for renewables and energy conservation, California regulators on Thursday left the door open for new natural gas-fired generation when they approved plans for replacing the output of a closed nuclear plant and several older gas-fired plants along the Southern California coast.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) established an energy reliability threshold for Southern California, calling for the region's two major utilities, Southern California Edison (SCE) and Sempra Energy's San Diego Gas and Electric Co. (SDG&E), to collectively secure the equivalent of up to 1,500 MW of additional power supplies by 2022 with at least 600 MW coming from renewables and efficiency programs.

In an earlier decision, the CPUC determined it was not feasible to rely entirely on non-conventional power sources to make up for the closing of the 2,200 MW San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) and another 5,900 MW of old gas-fired coastal plants that are slated to be repowered or replaced (see Daily GPI, Jan. 6).

The decision to not rule out the need for some new gas-fired plants has caused concerns among environmentalists and other activists in the state (see Daily GPI, Dec. 23, 2013), and in response to Thursday's further action at the CPUC, a trio of environmental groups cried foul.

"We are outraged by this decision," said Strela Cervas of the California Environmental Justice Alliance. "It leaves the door wide open for the vast majority of energy to be produced with polluting fossil fuels at the expense of our wallets and our health."

CPUC President Michael Peevey said the "combination of preferred resources [renewables and efficiency] and some more conventional [natural gas-fired] generation will help in making a more secure energy future for Southern California consumers."

The newest CPUC member, Commissioner Michael Picker, called the new procurement plan adopted for SCE and SDG&E "prudent and necessary. Keeping the lights on is not just about comfort; it's about safety and keeping our economy strong."

"The CPUC strongly intends to continue pursuing preferred resources to the greatest extent possible, but must always ensure that grid operations are not potentially compromised by excessive reliance on intermittent resources and resources with uncertain ability to meet need," the CPUC said.

Until preferred resources and storage options are further advanced, the CPUC has decided it must take what regulators' called "a prudent approach.”