With one of the state’s two major nuclear power plants expected to stay out of service for at least the rest of this year, California officials Friday showed a reemphasis on natural gas-fired generation, which is the state’s major source of electricity. They gathered in Northern California to officially open a new 300 MW gas-fired plant, the Lodi Energy Center (LEC), touting it as the state’s cleanest and most efficient combined-cycle gas plant.

With a week-long, statewide heat wave continuing Sunday, California withstood its first major test since the 2,200 MW Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (Songs) plant had both its two units go down in January. Thus, some mothballed gas-fired units in Huntington Beach were brought back on this summer, and other adjustments were made by SCE, the 78% owner/operator of Songs, and Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas and Electric Co. (SDG&E), a 20% owner of the nuke plant along the Southern California coast in North San Diego County.

Since the outage at Songs, officials at the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the state grid operator, California Independent System Operator (CAISO), have been scrambling to prepare for a long-term period without the nuclear plant’s baseload supplies. The CEC and CAISO has been paying increased attention to gas-fired generation, which is the biggest source of electricity along with growing renewables supplies and the state’s always sizable hydroelectric generation from within and outside the state.

CEC and other state/local officials turned out last Friday to officially open the $368 million LEC plant developed by its owner-operator, the Northern California Power Agency (NCPA), on behalf of nine of its 16 members, mostly public-sector power utilities. The facility is set to come online next month, with the city of Santa Clara’s Silicon Valley Power as the major (25%) LEC participant in the plant, which includes ownership interests by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District serving the San Francisco Bay Area.

CAISO and CEC officials lauded the new gas-fired plant for having a number of cutting-edge aspects that make it more efficient and environmentally clean. It can start up to pull capacity in about 50% less time than similar plants and it will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30%, according to the NCPA General Management James Pope. “This facility will come online quickly, burn less fuel and produce fewer emissions.”

Separately, so far in August, the CEC has also announced action on other new major gas-fired generation plants — the start of the review of the proposed 939 MW Huntington Beach Energy Project by a unit of AES Corp., which owns and operates the current older gas-fired units at the site, and a separate siting committee recommended approval for the 300 MW Pio Pico Energy Center LLC at Otay Mesa in southwest San Diego County. The 10-acre site is adjacent to the existing Calpine Corp. Otay Mesa Energy Center.

With continuing uncertainty surrounding Songs future and when at least one of the units will be restarted, the CEC has noted that the Pio Pico peaking plant could be operational by May 2014, but the larger Huntington Beach plant would not be commercially available for part of the facility until the second quarter of 2018.

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