California Scrambles to Find Electricity to Offset Plant Closures

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California is racing to unafraid ample amounts of powerfulness successful the adjacent fewer years to marque up for the impending closure of fossil-fuel powerfulness plants and a atomic installation that provides astir 10% of the state’s electricity.

The California Public Utilities Commission has ordered utilities to bargain an unprecedented magnitude of renewable vigor and artillery retention arsenic the authorities phases retired 4 natural-gas-fired powerfulness plants and retires Diablo Canyon, the state’s past atomic plant, starting successful 2024.

While the companies are moving rapidly to declaration for power, the California Energy Commission and the state’s grid relation person precocious expressed interest that the purchases whitethorn not beryllium capable to forestall energy shortages successful coming summers.

The bid requires companies specified as PG&E Corp. PCG 3.99% and Edison International’s EIX 1.33% Southern California Edison to bring much than 14,000 megawatts of powerfulness procreation and retention capableness online successful the coming years, an magnitude adjacent to astir a 3rd of the state’s forecast for highest summertime demand.

California has already been strained to support the lights connected this year. Wildfires person disrupted powerfulness transmission and a terrible drought has crimped hydroelectric accumulation passim the West. Those progressive successful processing the caller vigor sources accidental they expect important challenges successful moving accelerated capable to guarantee capable supplies.

A artillery retention installation has replaced a gas-fired works astatine Moss Landing, northbound of Monterey, Calif.

Photo: Christie Hemm Klok for The Wall Street Journal

The state’s dilemma underscores the difficulties of rapidly transitioning to cleaner powerfulness resources, arsenic the U.S. and galore countries are present pledging to bash successful effect to concerns astir clime change. A California instrumentality passed successful 2018 requires the authorities to decarbonize its powerfulness grid by 2045.

Edward Randolph, the California inferior commission’s enforcement manager for vigor and clime policy, said the assemblage has been preparing for Diablo Canyon’s status since it approved PG&E’s program to decommission the atomic works successful 2018. But the committee has since had to revise its readying arsenic a effect of a alteration successful the magnitude of powerfulness disposable passim the West, helium said.

The drought has constrained the output of immoderate of the region’s astir important generating facilities, including the Hoover Dam. On apical of that, different states person moved to adjacent coal-fired powerfulness plants successful caller years, reducing the magnitude of energy California tin import erstwhile precocious temperatures boost energy demand.

“What changed dramatically…is we person had importantly bigger and much West-wide vigor waves than ever before,” Mr. Randolph said. “Those aren’t built into our readying standards.”

The Diablo Canyon works has agelong been opposed by antinuclear activists, and PG&E would person had to marque costly seismic information upgrades to renew its national licence with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Instead the institution negotiated a deal successful 2016 with biology groups and labour unions to adjacent it down and regenerate its output with renewable energy.

Property owners successful the windy and sunny parts of the U.S. are pushing backmost against large-scale renewable vigor development, absorption that researchers accidental could dilatory the modulation to a cleaner economy. Photo: Aaron Yoder/WSJ

At the time, authorities officials played down the interaction connected supplies, saying they had a decennary to procure power. Diablo Canyon’s 2 atomic generating units, which supply a combined 2,250 megawatts of electricity, are present acceptable to adjacent successful 2024 and 2025.

The authorities is besides preparing for the closure of 4 gas-fired powerfulness plants connected the Southern California seashore that unneurotic proviso much than 3,700 megawatts. The plants had been slated to adjacent past year, but regulators moved to support 1 online done 2021 and the different 3 done 2023 retired of interest that California could look electricity shortages connected blistery days successful the evening, erstwhile star powerfulness accumulation declines.

The utilities committee successful precocious 2019 ordered the state’s ample powerfulness companies, arsenic good arsenic smaller providers, to declaration for 3,300 megawatts of caller procreation by 2023 to relationship for imaginable proviso shortages. The effort is mostly connected track, with immoderate projects facing insignificant delays, according to an bureau review.

Power providers volition soon person to determination adjacent faster successful contracting for caller supplies. The utilities committee this summertime ordered them to bring much than 3 times arsenic overmuch capableness online betwixt 2023 and 2026. The procurement order, the largest the bureau has ever issued, calls for 11,500 megawatts of upwind and star generation, artillery retention and different carbon-free resources, capable to powerfulness astir 2.5 cardinal homes.

California’s grid operator, known arsenic Caiso, called connected residents to conserve powerfulness respective times this summertime and took exigency measures to bargain further supplies from determination producers to trim the hazard of blackouts. The authorities besides precocious added 4 impermanent natural-gas generators astatine powerfulness plants to assistance alleviate the shortage.

Caiso Chief Executive Elliot Mainzer said the grid relation is looking to assistance accelerate the build-out of caller procreation but remains prepared to instrumentality exigency measures successful coming summers, particularly if the drought persists.

“These are tools that you anticipation ne'er to person to use,” helium said. “We person to beryllium acceptable for it, we person to person our contingency program successful place.”

Fong Wan, PG&E’s elder vice president of vigor argumentation and procurement, said helium anticipates the build-out of batteries volition assistance alleviate the proviso crunch substantially successful the coming years. A longer-term challenge, helium said, volition beryllium the improvement of retention susceptible of supplying powerfulness for galore hours. Most large-scale batteries proviso powerfulness for 4 hours astatine most, with longer-duration technology inactive successful aboriginal stages of development.

A powerfulness works successful Huntington Beach, Calif., is being phased retired arsenic the authorities attempts to modulation from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Photo: Leonard Ortiz/Zuma Press

“We are virtually connected the cutting edge” of rapidly adding renewables, Mr. Wan said. “And on with that, determination are immoderate things we are learning by proceedings and error, and we are taking immoderate risks successful the process.”

PG&E and Southern California Edison precocious contracted to bargain powerfulness from a 350-megawatt artillery retention task nether improvement by Recurrent Energy. The project, which volition proviso powerfulness for 4 hours, is expected to travel online adjacent year, the institution says.

Michael Arndt, Recurrent’s president and wide manager, said the institution is bullish connected the California market, but is acrophobic astir the clip it takes for projects to get support to link to the grid. The artillery retention task acceptable to travel online adjacent twelvemonth has been successful the works since 2015. The institution precocious filed much than 20 akin transportation requests successful the state.

“The interconnection process is long, and I’m not definite what the solution is,” Mr. Arndt said. “There are truthful galore projects that are filing for study, and that conscionable takes a batch of time.”

Write to Katherine Blunt astatine Katherine.Blunt@wsj.com

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