Low-Carbon Grid

CEERT’s Low-Carbon Grid Program promotes the integration of large amounts of renewable energy on the grid by tracking and intervening in crucial proceedings at the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) and other agencies. We also seek to foster joint operating agreements between the CAISO and the state’s municipal and investor-owned utilities, and promote coordination and consolidation of the Balancing Areas in our state and region as a low-cost means of integrating renewable power. The issues are often highly technical, but have enormous impact on the price of renewable energy projects and their access to the transmission and distribution system.

Recent Developments:

Western Grid Integration

Discussions continue on changing the selection process of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) Board of Governors in order to enable utilities from other states to join, and thus create a more efficient Western Interconnection. CEERT Executive Director V. John White and Grid Policy Director Liz Anthony continue to work with the Fix the Grid campaign to develop a path for regional grid integration as an essential part of the strategy for a low-carbon grid. We are especially focused on ensuring that a regional grid leads to emission reductions in urban and disadvantaged communities.

CEERT is currently working with stakeholders from California and other parts of the West on additional steps to increase regional coordination and cooperation, even as full grid integration discussions continue. Liz Anthony and CEERT Senior Technical Consultant Jim Caldwell have been talking with colleagues in the Pacific Northwest to develop strategies and encourage discussions on the feasibility of California exporting surplus solar energy at midday in exchange for Pacific Northwest hydropower providing flexible capacity that can help meet the state’s evening ramp requirements.

Grid Modernization and Reform

The first half of 2017 has seen an acceleration of the “duck curve,” with high levels of solar generation leading to low net-loads at midday, followed by a steep evening ramp, and some of the highest load days in the past decade. This past quarter, CEERT has taken the opportunity to analyze market and operations data and identify inefficiencies in current policies and practices. Liz Anthony has organized a working group with colleagues from California and other Western states focused on evaluating data and developing policy recommendations to improve the transition to a low-carbon grid. CEERT has led comment submissions from this group to the CAISO’s Flexible Resource Adequacy Criteria and Must Offer Obligation (FRACMOO) stakeholder process, as well as the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC’s) Resource Adequacy proceeding.

CEERT is also undertaking efforts aimed directly at decreasing the gas burn, especially in urban and disadvantaged communities. Jim Caldwell has been working with the City of Oxnard to advocate for clean energy procurement as an alternative to the gas-fired Puente power plant to meet Local Capacity Requirement (LCR) in the Moorpark subregion. LCR has been the primary driver of new gas-fired power plants in California. Jim will lead a study systematically identifying means to meet LCR need throughout the CAISO footprint with clean energy resources. In conjunction with this study, Liz Anthony is developing a database and analyzing the California gas fleet’s generation and emissions to determine trends and identify the most-polluting and least-needed gas plants during the transition to a low-carbon grid.

Inverter-Based Issues
Over the past year, there have been several instances when new utility-scale solar PV projects have tripped off line during “normally cleared” transmission faults. This phenomenon compromises grid reliability, and the problem must be solved. Interconnection standards that are in place should prevent this from occurring. Although most of the unanticipated outages have occurred on the Southern California Edison system, there have also been trips on the PG&E system and on the APS system in Arizona. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has sponsored a national task force to understand and rectify this problem.

Liz Anthony and Jim Caldwell have participated in workshops on the issue and are actively monitoring the situation. In the meantime, CAISO is carrying significantly more spinning reserves to guard against the consequences of these trips. This means higher market prices and reduced capacity for summer high-load hot days. Unless the problem is resolved before fall and spring light-load sunny days, we can also expect increased overgeneration and renewable curtailments.

Given current political controversies on the accelerated retirement of baseload generation such as coal and nuclear, the desire to blame “intermittent” wind and solar for compromising grid reliability, and the potential of preferred resources to take over supply of essential reliability services from fossil generation in the future, prompt resolution of the issue should be a priority for CEERT members. At this point, the problem appears to be mainly human—caused by inconsistent codes and standards and poor communication among planners, protection engineers, equipment manufacturers, and project developers and operators.

Discussions with the Governor’s Office

V. John White and Liz Anthony met several times with Saúl Gómez and Alice Reynolds to discuss our concerns about the actions (and inaction) of the CPUC, notably its reluctance to include new re-newable procurement in the Diablo Canyon proceeding, the “black hole” of the Integrated Resource Plan, the lack of transparency in its overall approach and methodology, the assumptions and time line that will result in new procurement delayed beyond the expiration of federal tax credits, and procurement continuing to be primarily solar and gas, with little or no regional wind and no new geothermal.

We briefed Saúl and Alice on Jim Caldwell’s analysis of the availability and cost-effectiveness of preferred resource alternatives to the Puente gas-fired power plant in Oxnard, and the need for the California Energy Commission to deny or suspend NRG’s Puente application while the CPUC directs Southern California Edison to undertake a new solicitation for preferred resources in the Moorpark sub-region. And we shared intelligence on the status of regional grid expansion discussions, the additional issues beyond governance, and the analysis Liz has been developing on the emissions from gas plants in disadvantaged communities.