It caused a political stir, but nary a megawatt changed Tuesday when California energy-buying officials turned over to the state controller seven more power contracts that cover supplies this summer. State Controller Kathleen Connell Monday expressed concerns that the state’s much-publicized long-term contracting was going to be woefully short this summer, causing billions of more dollars to be needed for spot market purchases.
A spokesman for Gov. Gray Davis said Tuesday that the contracts Connell was given do not represent any additional supplies beyond what the governor had already announced. Other state energy-buying officials disputed Connell’s conclusions about additional bond money being needed for prospective power purchases, saying the state controller didn’t have all the information on the state’s contract portfolio.
Unmoved by the flap, Davis signed bills Tuesday to speed up the siting and power plant construction process (SB 28X) and to mandate that the state regulatory commission and the utilities it oversees expand the participants in a special low-income energy ratepayers program.
Supplementing emergency executive orders earlier in the year, the new law speeds up development of new, re-powered and retrofitted electric generation plans and related facilities, encouraging the development of distributed generation. In addition it will provide flexibility for meeting air quality requirements, expand the six-month siting process to include re-powering, re-enact the four-month process for peaking plants and provide $3.2 million in grants to cities and counties to expedite local reviews of new power plants.
While contending that the new law will demonstrate “that you can build new plants quickly, while also protecting the environment,” Davis said the SB 28X will immediately speed up two important energy projects — IntergGen’s 900 MW power plant in Palm Springs, allowing the first 450 MW segment to be operational a year from now, and the Lodi Underground Gas Storage Project, which will store up to 12 Bcf of gas, allowing it to become operational this October.
With peak loads rising this week as inland valleys heat up, particularly in the northern half of the state, California’s transmission grid operator, Cal-ISO, is developing a blackout warning system for state residents and businesses that will predict the likelihood of blackouts a day-ahead, with information on where they are most likely to occur, and give at least 30 minutes warning to the public before blackouts are started. The warnings, which will be an extension of the current “power watches” when Stage One and Two power alerts are issued, are expected to begin next month.
Whenever there was a 50-50 chance of blackouts, the day-ahead warnings would be issued, the Cal-ISO indicated. Its board will review the proposed warning program when it meets Thursday.
If California’s pattern of electricity use stays the same as it was last summer, the Cal-ISO has been predicting up to 34 days of rolling blackouts between June and the end of September. In this sort of environment, the advance warnings are viewed as critical by both state officials and business groups.
The major investor-owned utilities and state energy commission are also working on notification systems to give government operations, businesses and the general public as much advance notice as possible. The energy commission Thursday will begin testing a computerized system for notifying various governmental agencies and facilities at all levels.
Meanwhile, a number of businesses that are large electricity users, such as refineries, are trying to get exemptions from the blackouts — either through a program announced Monday by the California Public Utilities Commission or through proposed legislation.
The key criterion for additional exemptions is whether the operations are critical to public health and safety, and there are not a lot of additional megawatts eligible to be exempt and still allow the state to keep 40% of its electric load open for rolling blackouts, CPUC Commissioner Carl Wood said. Currently about 50% of the statewide load is exempt because of the way exemptions are applied, Wood said.
Loads are controlled by circuits, so when one customer is exempted, all of the other customers on that circuit also are free from being shut off, regardless of their individual eligibility.
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