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:

Grid Modernization and Reform

Grid Policy Director Liz Anthony has continued to lead a working group of colleagues from California and other Western states that is evaluating data and developing policy recommendations to improve the transition to a low-carbon grid. In particular, CEERT is working with partners on a framework for changes to flexible resource adequacy that would allow clean-energy imports to be able to participate, and these changes have been adopted in the California Independent System Operator’s (CAISO’s) Flexible Resource Adequacy Criteria and Must Offer Obligation 2 (FRACMOO 2) stakeholder process.

CEERT is continuing our efforts aimed directly at decreasing the gas burn, especially in urban and disadvantaged communities. CEERT Technical Director Jim Caldwell’s work for the City of Oxnard to develop an alternative to the Puente gas-fired power plant ultimately led to the CAISO undertaking a formal study and the California Energy Commission (CEC) determining the Puente plant was not consistent with state policy, which has resulted in Southern California Edison holding a Request for Proposals for clean resources to meet the Moorpark Sub-Area’s Local Capacity Requirement (LCR) needs.

This has created a template for other utilities to follow, and led to PG&E developing a plan to replace its Oakland Energy Plant with preferred resources for LCR, and to the passing of a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) resolution directing PG&E to hold a solicitation for preferred resources to avoid reliability must-run contracts for several uneconomical Calpine gas plants.

Liz Anthony has also begun to develop a database and analyze the generation and emissions profiles of each gas-fired power plant in California — especially those located in disadvantaged and environmental-justice communities — to identify which of those plants are the most-polluting and the least-needed, and which clean-energy resources can be cost-effectively substituted for each plant’s output. No such comprehensive analysis currently exists.

Taken together with CEERT’s advocacy at the CPUC on Resource Adequacy reform, these developments are highly significant, and will require targeted follow-up at the CEC, the CAISO, and the CPUC to connect the dots and allow successful Requests for Offers for preferred resources to fill LCR needs in the above-mentioned proceedings. Similar issues are brewing at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power as it begins to seriously plan for a very low-carbon electric grid. These reliability-based procurements are facilitated by the commercialization of utility-scale battery storage but, at their core, also depend on rethinking the role of distributed solar, energy efficiency, and demand response.

As we assimilate the consequences of achieving a 30% RPS and contemplate doubling that level of penetration in the next few years, it is clear that these events signal a historic inflection point for CEERT’s core mission. Unless and until provision of grid reliability that depends on preferred resources instead of fossil energy becomes accepted industry practice, progress will become increasingly difficult. It is very encouraging that CEERT is finding close policy alignment on these issues with the utilities and professional staff at the CPUC and the CAISO.

Western Grid Integration

In the State Legislature’s 2017 session, a bill failed to pass that would have made the CAISO’s Board of Governors a non-politically-appointed body, and thus enabled out-of-state utilities to join and help create a regional system operator. CEERT continues to work with the Fix the Grid cam-paign to find a politically viable path to better regional integration as part of the strategy for a low-carbon grid.

We are also collaborating with colleagues in the West on other strategies for regional coordination. Liz Anthony and Jim Caldwell have been talking with Pacific Northwest advocates about the potential for California to reduce its renewable-energy curtailments by exporting surplus solar generation at midday in return for Northwest hydro resources later providing flexible capacity to help meet the steep evening ramp in Southern California. In a similar vein, CEERT has pressed for imports to qualify for meeting flexible resource adequacy (FRA) requirements in a way that would enable NW hydro to displace gas resources, and this proposal has become a tenet in the new FRA requirement framework being developed in CAISO’s FRACMOO 2 process.

Discussions with the Governor’s Office

V. John White, Liz Anthony, and Jim Caldwell met several times with Saúl Gómez, Deputy Cabinet Secretary, and Alice Reynolds, Senior Policy Advisor in the Governor’s Office. Topics included the CAISO analysis and recommendation on the Moorpark local capacity requirements and the proposed Puente plant; problems with the CPUC’s actions, or lack of action, on Diablo Canyon and the Integrated Resource Planning proceeding; and the need for accelerated renewables procurement to take advantage of expiring federal tax credits.  We discussed the challenges involved in the expansion of the CAISO grid, including environmental-justice groups’ concerns about potentially increased gas emissions; legislative resistance to giving up governance oversight and accountability; and options for incremental reforms and governance changes that might be more politically agreeable.

We also discussed the role of geothermal in Salton Sea restoration and mitigation, and the potential for better integrating the State Water Project infrastructure with California’s energy and climate goals.