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.
- Mississippi Sierra Club: Green Power Did Not Cause California Blackouts - September 18, 2020
- Energy Fragmentation Resulting in Blackouts Says PG&E - September 9, 2020
- Bruce Babbitt’s California Grand Water Bargain is a Selfie to Seek Federal Appointment - August 31, 2020