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From staff and wire reports
California generally has enough electricity on tap to keep air conditioners humming this summer, but a heat wave could leave millions of Southern Californians without power in the aftermath of a huge natural gas-well blowout in the San Fernando Valley, the state’s power-grid operator warned Wednesday.
A lack of natural gas to fuel power plants during peak demand potentially could interrupt electricity on as many as 14 days this summer, according to an assessment from the California Independent System Operator.
Southern California will need “deft management” of the power supply because of the partial shutdown of the vast natural gas storage field at Aliso Canyon, Steve Berberich, the system’s president and chief executive, said in a statement.
“The ISO has moved quickly to put into place new mechanisms to reduce the impact of gas curtailments on electric reliability,” he added. “We are also asking consumers to respond to calls for energy conservation on days we call a Flex Alert.”
Since February, officials have voiced concern that the lack of natural gas from the Aliso Canyon field threatens future energy reliability in light of a moratorium on injections at the Southern California Gas Co.’s natural gas storage facility.
In April, utility regulators announced that Southern California could face 14 days of rolling blackouts if the facility above Porter Ranch remains depleted. That would mean residents from the Inland Empire to the coast would face power outages and higher electricity rates this summer, they warned.
In general, the report out Wednesday said the summer power supply appears adequate, with new supplies coming online in the past year, especially from wind, solar and other renewable producers, and near-normal hydroelectric supplies projected thanks to decent runoff from melting snow after years of drought.
California can generate more than 54,000 megawatts of electricity, an increase of nearly 4 percent over last summer, the report said. That is well over the expected demand.
Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon field is the largest natural gas storage area in the West. Ample storage is needed because natural gas pipelines can’t deliver gas fast enough or carry the capacity needed to meet the demands of gas-powered generating plants when demand spikes during the hot months.
A leaking well spewed huge amounts of methane into the air for nearly four months before the well was sealed in February. During the leak, the company withdrew most of the gas in the field to relieve pressure on the leaking well. The company is under orders from state regulators not to store additional gas deep underground until all 114 remaining wells pass a battery of strict tests.
However, consumer advocates and others have questioned forecasts of possible blackouts as a scare tactic to justify keeping the facility open. They say power plants have alternative back-up fuels in lieu of natural gas.
“I think we have enough natural gas pipeline capacity to meet our power-plant needs,” said Alexandra Nagy, senior organizer for Food & Water Watch, who grew up in Chatsworth. “This is a lot of the same rhetoric which we’ve been calling blackout blackmail. The Aliso Canyon storage facility needs to be shut down.”
Associated Press reporter Robert Jablon and staff writer Dana Bartholomew contributed to this report.
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