In its foolish rush to close every natural gas power plant in the state, officials forgot something: Californians still need power. Consequently, the AES generating station in Redondo Beach, which had been headed for the power plant equivalent of the glue factory, will remain open through 2023.
“With California struggling to meet electricity demands as it transitions to clean energy, regulators” on Oct. 19, approved another extension for the facility, the Orange County Register reports. It will now remain open, generating enough energy to power about 125,000 homes, through 2023.
It’s the plant’s second lifeline. A previous extension was approved last year, when the facility was one of four natural gas plants the state had “been seeking to retire for a decade” that were granted extensions. Extra time as granted following an analysis “that identified a potential electricity capacity shortfall beginning in the summer of 2021.”
California retired three natural gas facilities in 2018, taking more than 2,000 megawatts of power offline. Three more, currently producing a total of nearly 1,900 megawatts, will be gone before the decade is over.
The state has also recently shut down a nuclear site, leaving a single nuclear facility open – the 2,160-megawatt Diablo Canyon Power Plant in San Luis Obispo County, which provides 9% of California’s electricity. Officials plan to shutter it in 2025.
In extending the life of power plants that were in line to close, state officials tacitly admitted they’re aware the law requiring 100% of electric retail sales to customers by 2045 to be generated by renewable sources likely isn’t achievable. A year ago, just after California had been hit with rolling blackouts for the first time since 2001, Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged that the transition has problems. He warned the state had to “sober up to the reality that in this transition we’re going to have to do more and be much more mindful in terms of our capacity to provide backup and insurance.”
The California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid, as well as the California Public Utilities Commission, made similar disclosures. In an against-the-green comment, CAISO president and CEO Steve Berberich confessed that there’s “inadequate power available” after the sun sets because the production of solar energy, which produces roughly one-fifth of the electricity in California, shuts down.
Maybe that problem is solved by 2045. But only if the energy produced by the sun and wind is saved in systems that are a sharp improvement over the batteries of today, which “are usually designed for only a few hours of storage.” While the leaps in innovation necessary to reach that point are not out of the question, the large breakthroughs in battery technology are in the past, leaving only small advancements ahead. Mark P. Mills of the Manhattan Institute says there’s little reason to expect a “Moore’s Law” revolution in battery tech.
While on this point, let’s not forget that a great deal of energy, most of it generated by the sources California wants to eliminate, is needed to build batteries, nor that “the cost to store energy in grid-scale batteries is … about 200-fold more than the cost to store natural gas to generate electricity when it’s needed,” according to Mills.
Californians would be better off if gas and nuclear plants were being built rather than taken down. With the state’s population expected to increase by several million by 2045, it’s more than likely renewables alone won’t be able to meet the higher energy demands. Taking cheap and reliable energy offline isn’t asking for trouble, it’s guaranteeing it.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.