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Palomar Energy Center. (Photo: San Diego Gas and Electric)

How Long Can ‘Dirty Coal’ and Gas Bail Out L.A. From Heat Waves?

Nearly 75% of L.A.’s peak electricity demand is met by coal and gas-fired power plants during heat wave

By Wayne Lusvardi, August 28, 2020 12:56 pm

During the current triple digit heat wave hitting California, the state electric grid’s Independent System Operator (ISO) stated it was conservation efforts that avoided more extensive rolling blackouts. But, data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) indicates that what is bailing out the City of Los Angeles from massive blackouts due to a statewide shortfall of power, is not conservation but “dirty” natural gas power and imported coal power from Utah and Arizona.

LADWP reports that normally it relies on:

  • Natural gas – 34% (thre gas power plants in Los Angeles)
  • Green power – 33% (wind farm-Tehachapi, CA; solar power, Kern County)
  • Coal power – 19% (from Utah and Arizona)
  • Nuclear power – 9% (from Arizona)
  • Hydropower – 5% (Hoover Dam, Castaic Lake)

Thus, any pollution from coal power plant emissions in Utah and Arizona do not create smog in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles basin traps air emissions because of what is called an inversion layer. Conversely, Arizona and Utah do not have basin topographies but are plains states where wind dilutes air pollution instead of trapping it (“the solution to pollution is dilution”). So, despite Los Angeles’s goal to shift to 100 percent green power by 2045, the City already has relatively clean power by buying imported power.

The reliance on natural gas and coal power is avoiding larger power deficiency blackouts (not fire storm safety blackouts or downed powerline blackouts). Nonetheless, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has stated he plans to phase out three coastal natural gas power plants rather than retrofit them for green power. These power plants are scheduled to be closed and dismantled in 2023.

The amount of natural gas power use will increase when the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant closes down due to state mandates in 2025. The Intermountain Power Coal Power Plant in Utah is scheduled to be closed by 2027 and possibly converted to gas power, but the City of Los Angeles does not want to buy gas power in the future.

However, some California energy officials are now urging to extend the permits on the California coastal power plants, as natural gas is lifeline power during summer heat waves or winter cold snaps. Solar, wind and battery power are not sufficient to meet demands during peak energy usage events or extreme temperatures. But like the rest of California, there is no plan to retain natural gas power plants in the City of Los Angeles or buy imported gas power.

Worsening the blackout problem during heat waves and winter cold snaps is that shifting to solar panels creates a daily loss of sun power at sunset that only natural gas and nuclear power can replace. This “daily energy crisis” is called the “Duck Curve” because the use of power at sunset resembles the profile of a duck’s body.

Presently, neither California nor the City of Los Angeles have plans on how to respond to the daily energy crises or the seasonal peaks in power demand, except to build more green power. Thus, Los Angeles’s green power plan has been criticized as mainly benefitting the rich, as the likely consequences of green power are higher electricity rates and regular blackouts.

Rolling blackouts and shutdowns of transmission lines due to wind-driven firestorms are likely to become an annual event in California. This may evolve into daily blackouts if there is insufficient “dispatchable power” (coal, gas, nuclear power) available each day at sunset.

Gov. Newsom, however, has said recent power deficiency blackouts mainly in central California are “unacceptable” and green power will “not (with) stand” the state-wide blackout problem.

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10 thoughts on “How Long Can ‘Dirty Coal’ and Gas Bail Out L.A. From Heat Waves?

  1. The duck curve shows that solar can’t meet peak needs as solar output is declining as power demand is increasing. There is ZERO solar power at peak demand. Do the math!

    Wind is a joke. I have driven past Tehachapi many, many times when none of the turbines are operating.

  2. Green power advocates contend that there is solar power during sunset and nightime hours from stored electrons in batteries. So far the amount of battery power during the blackouts in Central California has been miniscule but not ZERO. Thanks for comment.

    1. There would have to be a lot more solar to charge all those batteries. I have built battery storage that was several megawatts (for a huge data center) and it is very expensive and problematic. Energy will end up being far too expensive to use which in my opinion is the whole point of “green”. Elites like Newsom will have mega mansions with the AC set at 68 degrees while the useful idiots swelter in the 105 degree heat.

  3. Why is our Diablo Nuclear Power Plant not mentioned? We have a zero emission power plant here in SLO County and they want to shut it down why? The environmentalists want to shut it down because it uses ocean water for cooling and where the heated water from the power plant is put into the ocean is causing a small micro climate. Fix it. Install a closed cooling loop out into the ocean. No fish will get sucked into the intake and the heat will be radiated out into the ocean over a few miles, to where no temperature increase could be measured.
    Come on engineers. Put on your thinking caps.

    1. The article focuses on Southern California, especially City of Los Angeles, which gets nuclear power from the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant in Arizona. The point of the article is Los Angeles experienced numerous outages, but not rolling blackouts during the heat wave, unlike Central California that had 95% of the rolling blackouts. The reason LA escaped the blackouts was that it could rely on coal, natural gas, nuclear and hydro power for 75% of its load.
      Yes, the reasons for mothballing Diablo Canyon Nuke Plant are arbitrary and mitigatable but Democrats do not want cheap, clean power to compete with green power. The goal is to take over the entire electricity industry and with it they buy green votes to stay in power forever. The Democrats will buy jobs to buy votes. Soon there will be only a sham private electricity industry remaining as green power jobs will be socialized jobs.

  4. The entire “green” energy movement is pure virtue signaling without practical regard to powering people’s livelihoods, Teslas and cell phones overnight….
    They are all stupid, shallow minded charlatans….

  5. Wayne,
    Do you think Gavin Newsom secretly realizes that the Diablo Plant is needed? He stated on video yesterday (from burnt-out location) that climate change is undeniable and that we need to do something. I think he is building political cover, which he would need in spades, to ‘extend’ the closure another 5-10 years, under the auspice of potentially keeping it open longer. Otherwise, what’s the alternative solution? Massive solar fields with an Energy Return on Energy Invested (correctly calculated) that is many orders of magnitude less than nuclear?

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