Officials with jurisdiction over about 80 percent of California’s power grid say the state faces a grim outlook as summer heat, wildfires and a severe drought intensify.
“When you step back, I think many of us are really recognizing now that climate change and these extreme heat waves happening in the earlier parts of the summer now have forced all of us to do things that we really never imagined just a few years ago,” Elliot Mainzer, president and CEO of California’s Independent System Operator, said recently.
Energy alternatives to fossil fuels such as solar and wind power are well known. But the alternative systems to deliver that and other power have received far less attention.
“But we’ve entered this new normal, and now it’s really going to take all of us doing our own … part during this important clean energy transition to keep the lights on,” he added.
Environmental regulators agree.
“On average, 4 percent of the land in California has burned per decade since 1984,” CalEPA noted in a 2016 report. “Higher temperatures and drought are likely to increase the severity, frequency, and extent of wildfires, which could harm property, livelihoods, and human health.”
Hoping to reduce strain on the power grid, experts are looking at alternative energy generation and acquisition, distribution and storage. Some of these programs, inspired in part by the meltdown of California’s electricity market two decades ago, already are in place across the state.
Energy alternatives to fossil fuels such as solar and wind power are well known. But the alternative programs to locally acquire clean power have received far less attention.
Gaining increased interest is a program known as CCA, or Community Choice Aggregation, which allows local communities to buy power themselves and limit their dependency on California’s so-called “IOUs,” the huge investor-owned utilities of Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric.
CCA system created was Marin Clean Energy, founded in the Bay Area county in 2010.
Legislation authorizing CCAs was approved in 2002, and later tweaked by the state Public Utilities Commission.
“These CCAs have been effective at unlocking a market largely stifled by an investor-owned utility monopoly and have given an opportunity for cities and counties who want more renewable energy to do so.” stated a 2020 UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation report on state CCAs.
The first state CCA system created was Marin Clean Energy, founded in the Bay Area county in 2010. Currently, there are about two-dozen CCAs across California. The goal of the CCA is to get power more cheaply, cleanly and reliably, and limit exposure to brown-outs and power shutoffs.
Environmental concerns have been key to the formation of CCAs.
The CCAs allow for community participation in a self-determined energy mix, as CCAs contract for hydro, solar, wind and other power mostly in-state generators. This includes more than 6,000 megawatts of clean energy resources that have been or will be built to serve CCA customers.
Utilities, too, seek clean power.
Experts say the utilities have made progress divesting themselves from polluting out-of-state energy sources. That has been the case of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which decided to sell its interest in the coal-fired, 477 MW Arizona Navajo Generating Station back in 2015.
The recent Chapter 9 protection filing by the Riverside-based Western Community Energy (WCE) highlights the many risks for fledgling CCAs: coordination, storage, capital, and financing.
DERs encompass numerous technologies, from battery storage to grid demand-response systems.
Hampered by lack of COVID relief funding, WCE was forced to disband only one year after its launch. Though promising, there are greater steps to be taken for wider success of CCA systems.
Meanwhile, the system known as distributed energy resources (DERs) encompass numerous technologies, from battery storage to grid demand-response systems. California has more installed DER capacity than any other state, as noted in a 2016 study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
DERs can serve as more “personal” energy systems, providing power to a business or household. But they can be integrated as part of a larger grid to export unused energy and reduce strain on the grids. Such systems function in order to reduce the impact of supply exceeding demand, and offer an even more personalized energy mix.
California offers “up-front cash incentives for solar electric systems and either up-front or performance-based rebates for wind turbines, fuel cells, and storage systems,” the 2016 report noted.
Thus far this year, more than 5,100 wildfires have been reported.
There’s also a dedicated funding program called the Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), which few people have ever heard of. But it’s important: It rewards on-site distributed generation. Rebates are offered to customers who install their own DER systems. For example, customers who install battery storage can receive up to 15-20% of the original cost back from PG&E.
These programs are increasingly important as the state confronts vast wildfires and the effects of climate change.
Thus far this year, more than 5,100 wildfires have been reported. The most significant is the Dixie fire in the Plumas County region, which has merged with a smaller fire and burned about 200,000 burned acres and was 21 percent contained, as of Sunday.
A sweeping heatwave across the West Coast this month brought with it a plethora of increasingly familiar summertime traditions for Californians: flocking to the nearest body of water in an attempt to cool down, emergency declarations by the governor regarding the “Excessive Heat Event” and the Flex Alerts from the ISO, which urge residents to conserve energy in order for the primary grid operator to stave off rotating power outages.
During the first half of July, ISO released statements affirming that energy saved from these voluntary Flex Alerts “[contributed] as much as 700 MW” to the state energy grid.
Editor’s Note: Corrects energy divestiture in 15th graf to utilities, not CCAs, and deletes comment from Liane Randolph, 16 graf, and references throughout to MCE to conform.