Chad Deal 8:51 p.m., June 19
Statements from the California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO) concerning the stress put on the region’s power grid by the heat wave of the last two weeks are “borderline irresponsible,” says electrical engineer Bill Powers.
CAISO, which provides access to the bulk of the state’s power grid, issued 8 notices, either Flex Alerts or restricted maintenance operations notices, between August 9 and August 15. These alerts, Powers says, occurred despite a local surplus of power generating capability of over 29 percent based on projected models, even after deducting any expected contribution from San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which remains in emergency shutdown mode due to a radioactive leak last January. In reality, the reserve was even greater, as the year’s peak demand hour (3-4 p.m. on August 13) was for 4,288 megawatts of power, 150 megawatts below the projected 2012 peak demand and 355 megawatts below the system’s all-time peak that occurred in September of 2010. In actuality, Powers says, the system had at least a 33 percent power surplus when Flex Alerts were called.
“All of this is particularly relevant because CAISO has become the primary advocate for more fast start peaking power plants in SDG&E service territory, specifically 100 MW Quail Brush and 300 MW Pio Pico,” Powers says.
Powers also shared with the Reader an article he penned for the September issue of Natural Gas & Electricity Journal, which argues that while the need for these new “peaker” plants, designed to come online quickly in the event extra power is needed for a temporary event, is already low, their utility will be further diminished as the spread of on-site solar power in both residential and commercial reduces strain on the power grid during typical midday times of peak demand. In the article, Powers actually suggests that due to the adoption of localized solar power, these midday hours that have historically strained the grid most as consumers crank up the air conditioning will actually transition into the times of lowest demand, since the same excess sunshine that drives electricity demand will be providing the power needed to stave off future energy emergencies.
Meanwhile, in an apparent acknowledgment that a restart of operations at San Onofre is not likely on the horizon despite repeatedly revised timeline projections that originally said the plant would be online as early as last June, operator Southern California Edison has announced that it will lay off up to 730 San Onofre employees, representing about a third of the plant’s workforce.
The layoffs, which are expected to begin after September, will continue through the end of the year. Edison has promised that safety at the plant will not be compromised by the staff reductions.