Natural gas is little more than an afterthought in a recent Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) report that recommends a combination of distributed generation and demand-side resources be applied as soon as possible to make up for the continuing outage at the 2,200 MW San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (Songs) along the Southern California coast.

The report, “Reinventing Fire in Southern California: Distributed Resources and the San Onofre Outage,” concludes that the combination of bringing back two previously decommissioned gas-fired coastal generation units and relying on a new major transmission power line for bringing in renewables from the southeast corner of the state may not be available next summer.

“Though there are many options that rely on increased gas capacity and transmission investments, the goal of this paper is to highlight the role that distributed resources can play,” said the RMI report. “These resources include efficiency, demand response and solar photovoltaic (PV).”

RMI’s conclusion is that distributed generation is an option for the near-term as well as many years out. “They can help address the nearer-term shortfall in energy and capacity that Southern California faces,” it said. RMI’s report did not give much attention to the fact that California energy officials throughout most of this year have relied on more gas-fired generation following operating problems that have shut both of Songs’ two generation units (see Daily GPI, Aug. 14).

In August, officials re-emphasized gas-fired generation, which is the state’s major source of electricity. They gathered in Northern California to open a 300 MW gas-fired plant, the Lodi Energy Center (LEC), touting it as the state’s cleanest and most efficient combined-cycle gas plant.

In the midst of the start of a prolonged late summer heat wave, California withstood the loss of the Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) majority owned and operated nuke plant that had both its units go down last January. Additional gas-fired generation from new and existing plants was a key factor.

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., a 20% owner of the nuclear plant in North San Diego County.

However, RMI’s report stressed that “distributed energy resources could replace a significant portion of the capacity, energy and ancillary services that Songs has provided to Southern California.” At the same time, the report acknowledged that policymakers and grid planners “hesitate to rely on these resources” as a substitute for baseload power.

“There historical levels of adoption fall far short of what is needed to replace a power plant as large as Songs.” Nevertheless, RMI thinks California has an “opportunity” to expand distributed, efficiency and renewable resources in the absence of Songs. The report stressed that it can help the state reach its 2020 renewable energy goal of 33%.

RMI urges “bold and quick” action, concluding that replacing lost capacity such as Songs’ 2,200 MW “is an immediate need.” The report recommends that the need be filled mostly with distributed energy resources, at least one of which can include gas-fired generation in combined heat-power cogeneration projects.

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