A fight could be brewing over how Southern California will replace the 2,200 megawatts of power the now-closed San Onofre nuclear power plant provided to the grid, and especially to the kilowatt-hungry cities of Los Angeles and San Diego.
A multiagency plan now taking shape to fill the gap in power supplies is based on an assumption that at least half the power can be replaced cleanly — with renewable energy, energy efficiency measures and transmission upgrades — but the other half will have to be supplied from “conventional” generation, that is natural gas plants.
A meeting in Sacramento Monday brought together top officials from the agencies involved — the California Energy Commission, Public Utilities Commission, the Independent System Operator (the grid folks), the Air Resources Board, the Water Resources Board and the South Coast Air Quality Management District — to get a briefing on where things are about three months after Southern California Edison announced it was permanently closing the crippled plant.
As evident from the number of major players, there are many moving parts to the picture.
For Southern California Edison — which owned the plant with San Diego Gas & Electric and the city of Riverside, the issue is not simply replacing the 2,200 megawatts. Edison representative Mark Nelson said, with expected population growth, uncertainty and the retirement of other plants, the utility will need 2,800-3,300 megawatts.
The challenge also goes beyond power, said Robert Weisenmiller, Energy Commission chair in his opening remarks at the meeting.
“The entire transmission system in Southern California was built around San Onofre,” he said. ”It’s an opportunity to remake the energy system in Southern California in new ways.”
More than one speaker noted that even before planning for new power generation facilities could take place, a forecast of transmission requirements would be needed.
Another factor is the imminent closure of older natural gas plants – with a combined capacity of 5,000 megawatts — on the coast to meet new state regulations that prohibt their old once-through cooling systems. The plan calls for them to be replaced with newer, more efficient and cleaner natural gas plants.
Climate change is also a factor that has to be taken into account, he said. Whatever other objections one might have to San Onofre, it did not produce major amounts of carbon emissions. So the challenge, beyond replacing the actual power, is replacing it without increasing the state’s greenhouse gases and without the costs of any new power plants or transmission lines exploding on ratepayers electric bills.
Beyond saying the plan involves billions of dollars of projects, officials at the meeting could not say exactly how much the new generation and transmission will cost or how much of it will be passed on to ratepayers.
But two camps appear to be emerging based on public comments made during the meeting. Construction industry and business representatives are calling for natural gas plants — and expedited permitting processes to get them online quickly — while environmental groups calling for 100 percent clean energy to replace nuclear power.
Jeremy Smith of the State Building and Construction Trades Council, called for a balanced approach — and jobs for his members.
“We are poised to build anything that comes out of this proceeding,” he said. ”In the future we want to make sure there is a balanced approach so we can ensure the generation is there for grid, but we create the maximum number of jobs.”
On the other side, a Sierra Club representative said a plan to replace San Onofre’s power completely with renewables could be possible. Citing a forecast that the state could be adding 3,500 megawatts of renewable generation as part of its 33 percent renewable goal, he called for a “full bore effort” including energy loan programs for homes and businesses and the use of new smart inverters for solar installations that can smooth out some of the intermittency issues associated with rooftop generation.
“We don’t want to replace old carbon emissions with new carbon emissions,” he said.
Public Utilities Commissioner Mike Florio said replacing San Onofre completely with renewable power might be possible in the long term but is not practical for ensuring immediate grid reliability.
“In the next five or 10 years, we don’t yet have the technology to provide the 24-7 reliability people have come to expect, with renewables,” he said. ”As we move forward with electricity storage or responsive demand, electric vehicles that could store power and put back on the grid — that’s the goal we’re all striving for.”