On the day we were working on this column, Southern California Edison (SCE) reported 30 power outages in their service area. San Diego Gas and Electric noted 33 customers/communities without juice. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) had 20 districts in the dark.

There are no reports of how many Southern California customers were without lights and air conditioning, but it is likely in the hundreds of thousands range and possibly many more.

Yes, it was a hot day, and the power companies blamed the weather for the outages, but there are other reasons. Seasonal temperature variations aside, the hidden cause is the regulatory environment that surrounds every business in our state, multiplied many times for the power companies by a long period of legislative and agency hyper-activity on environmental issues, particularly on air and water.

It’s All About the Math

You can see the power demands put on the state’s electrical power system every day at: http://www.caiso.com/TodaysOutlook/Pages/default.aspx.

This site shows California’s current generation available capacity (49,224 megawatts) and current usage (31,420 MW), the estimated peak demand for the day and the historic high peak (July 24, 2006, of 50,270 MW).

The lights go out when demand threatens to exceed supply with preplanned and sometimes unplanned outages. The regulatory agencies are going full tilt at power plants for sins of emissions or politically unpopular power sourcing, such as nuclear or dam-supplied hydro, and that is cutting into supply.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is deeply committed to eliminating fossil fuel power plants. In the past four years, California has closed 5,000 megawatts (MW) of natural gas generation. That doesn’t include the additional nearly 4,000 MW of gas generation scheduled to “retire” to meet rules from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).

In 2010, the water board adopted rules requiring the elimination of “once-through cooling” (OTC), where generation facilities use coastal water sources for cooling.

The reg caught the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in its net. Under attack by anti-nuke forces for decades, failing to comply with the OTC requirements was the final nail. It is impossible to replace the 2.3 billion gallons of seawater used (and returned to the ocean) daily for cooling Diablo Canyon. It retires in 2024.

The electricity business has its special regulatory “partners,” including the California Public Utilities Commission, California Independent System Operator Corporation, and the California Energy Commission. What these guys do and why is a mysterious, expensive story for another time.

By Dave Sorem, P.E., ECA Government Affairs Chairman email: [email protected]