With the advent of more renewables and more retirement of coal-fired power plants, an almost three-decade-old coalition of energy regulators and planners from throughout the western states has authorized a study of the level of coordination among the natural gas and electrical systems in the region.

A motivating factor is the real prospect that more gas-fired generation will become crucial to replace the outgoing coal-fired power plants and to smooth out a regional grid that is adding more renewable sources of power. The study will look at how much interface between the two systems exists now and how much will be needed in the future.

At the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) business meeting Thursday, Commissioner Mike Florio gave a brief report on an “unprecedented effort” by a study team from the Committee on Regional Electric Power Cooperation (CREPC), on which he represents the CPUC. The CREPC includes representatives of 12 western states and two Canadian provinces.

“California has always been heavily dependent on natural gas for electric generation for a long time, but as other states are seeing a move away from coal toward gas-fired generation, this study intends to look across the West at the adequacy of the natural gas infrastructure to meet the [anticipated] increased demand for that fuel to generate electricity,” Florio said.

Florio added that CREPC’s agreement to fund the study will include a “shorter-term operational study” to see if facilities are adequate to handle rapid changes in load as generators cycle up and down to integrate increased renewable resources in the mix. This is an issue federal regulators and grid operators in other parts of the country have been struggling with for more than a year.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has held several technical conferences attempting to iron out issues, without any measurable signs of progress (see Daily GPI, Dec. 4, 2012). A suggestion that natural gas pipelines split their scheduling into east and west gas days has not found favor with the industry (see Daily GPI, April 17).

Both Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Southern California Gas Co. had representatives attending the recent meeting, and they offered their expertise to a task force that put together the request for the project.

“This is really an unprecedented effort to bring the gas and electric industries together to address these operational concerns,” said Florio, adding that he thinks California is already “doing a pretty good job and we will be able to take what we’ve learned and share it with the rest of the West.

“Trying to see and deal with any problems before they start coming is really important,” he said.

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