Record heat wave puts California in fossil fuel conundrum

Sep 7, 2022, 12:52 PM | Updated: Sep 8, 2022, 6:43 am
A man pushes a stroller near the AES power plant in Redondo Beach, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022...

A man pushes a stroller near the AES power plant in Redondo Beach, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. A record heat wave put California in a fossil fuel conundrum: The state has had to rely more heavily on natural gas to produce electricity and avoid power outages while Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration moves toward ending the use of oil and gas. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A record heat wave put California in a fossil fuel conundrum: The state has had to rely more heavily on natural gas to produce electricity and avoid power outages while Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration moves toward ending the use of oil and gas.

The heat wave that started more than a week ago has been hotter and longer than any other in the state, and it put unprecedented strain on power supplies. That prompted Newsom to plead with people to use less power to avoid rolling blackouts — a practice that involves cutting some people’s power to save energy so the lights can stay on for everyone else.

The effort worked, but meeting the state’s heightened energy demand also required activating generators fueled by natural gas, which is still a major part of the state’s power picture. The Democratic governor’s calls for conservation also drew criticism about new state policies governing electric vehicles and other measures that will only increase energy demand.

Newsom, speaking to reporters Wednesday, said the “pretty extreme” circumstances required the state to turn to more natural gas as a backup supply.

“We all want to accelerate the elimination of the gas, but it’s a sober reminder of reality,” he said.

Tuesday’s demand for 52,000 megawatts set a record, as triple-digit temperatures blanketed much of the state. Sacramento hit a record high of 116 degrees (47 degrees Celsius), and normally cooler places like San Francisco and San Diego also reached sizzling temperatures.

Demand will only climb in the years ahead. By 2045, when the state is mandated to get all of its electricity from non-carbon or renewable sources, demand is expected to be as high as 78,000 megawatts due to more electric home appliances and cars on the road, according California Energy Commission estimates.

To meet that demand, both the government and major utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric are working to scale up renewable sources such as solar and wind power, as well as large-scale batteries that can store that power for use at night. The California Public Utilities Commission last year ordered utilities to procure enough additional power for 2.5 million homes by 2026.

Newsom just signed legislation aimed at keeping the state’s last nuclear plant open for five years beyond its planned 2025 closure, and he suggested Wednesday that the plant could run even longer if needed.

The sun is typically the state’s biggest power source during the day. But as the hot weather arrived, natural gas surpassed renewables for more time over the past week, according to the California Independent System Operator, which is responsible for managing and maintaining reliability on the state’s power grid.

Gas was the primary energy source all day on Tuesday — the expected peak of the brutal temperatures.

Meanwhile, on Monday the state for the first time turned on four gas-powered generators to add more supply, enough to power 120,000 homes. It planned to rely on some diesel-powered generators as well.

But some of the state’s fossil-fuel plants have their own reliability problems. Several power plants, including aging gas-fired ones along California’s coast, partially broke down or produced less energy than planned, according to the ISO.

Four of the plants, which suck up ocean water to cool down their equipment, were slated to close in 2020, but the state has continually extended their lives to help stabilize the power supply. They now plan to stay open until at least 2023, but they could last even longer under legislation Newsom signed in June.

If the state wants to keep the old coastal gas-powered plants online beyond 2023, it needs to give the companies that own them more certainty about the future so they can decide whether to spend money to maintain them, said Siva Gunda, vice chairman of the California Energy Commission, the state’s energy planning agency.

“Everything has to be moved forward at full throttle” with the “ambitious aim” that cleaner energy sources make up most of the state’s power reserves, he said.

The intensity of the heat wave only emphasizes the need for California to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, he said.

The grid challenges also provided plenty of fodder for Newsom’s political critics, who have argued that Democrats’ policies to move away from oil and gas don’t add up.

The state recently adopted new regulations aimed at ending the sale of most new gas-powered cars in the state by 2035. But during the heat wave, officials also urged people not to charge cars or use other large appliances at night. The state has not banned car charging, but instead urged people to do so during the day.

“Gavin Newsom — You have to buy an electric car. Also Gavin Newsom — But you can’t charge it,” Republican state Sen. Melissa Melendez tweeted Tuesday evening after the state sent out an emergency wireless alert urging people to reduce power use.

Environmental groups say planning failures led California to rely on natural gas — and even ramp up its use — during the heat wave. The state needs to set clearer goals and benchmarks to meet its clean energy targets and ensure that fossil fuels aren’t used as a backup, said Ari Eisenstadt, campaign manager for Regenerate California, a campaign aimed at ending fossil fuel use in the state.

“Folks have been talking about natural gas as a bridge for decades,” he said. “And if it were truly a bridge, we would have crossed it by now.”

___

Associated Press journalist Michael R. Blood contributed reporting from Beverly Hills, Calif.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Wind turbines turn near the village of Feldheim, rear left, near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday...
Associated Press

In one tiny German town, nobody worries about energy bills

FELDHEIM, Germany (AP) — Europeans are opening their energy bills with trepidation these days, bracing for hefty price hikes as utility companies pass on the surging cost of natural gas, oil and electricity tied to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Many are trying to conserve by turning down the heat and shutting off lights this winter. […]
8 hours ago
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for a second term, waves to supporters during a ...
Associated Press

Brazil election: A clash of titans as Bolsonaro faces Lula

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s presidential election Sunday is being contested by 11 candidates but only two stand a chance of reaching a runoff: former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and incumbent Jair Bolsonaro. Both are political titans, and eight of 10 Brazilians will vote for one of them, according to pollster Datafolha. […]
8 hours ago
Associated Press

Bed Bath & Beyond 2Q sales fall but meet Street’s view

Bed Bath & Beyond’s sales declined 28% in its fiscal second quarter, but the performance managed to meet Wall Street’s expectations. The Union, New Jersey-based home goods retailer reported sales of $1.44 billion for the three months ended Aug. 27. That compares with sales of $1.99 billion a year earlier. Sales at stores open at […]
8 hours ago
Bands of clouds sweep by a deserted beach as the effects from Hurricane Ian are felt, Thursday, Sep...
Associated Press

People trapped, 2.5M without power as Ian drenches Florida

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Hurricane Ian carved a path of destruction across Florida, trapping people in flooded homes, cutting off the only bridge to a barrier island, destroying a historic waterfront pier and knocking out power to 2.5 million people as it dumped rain over a huge area on Thursday. Catastrophic flooding was threatened […]
8 hours ago
Associated Press

Spain agrees on temporary wealth tax, hikes for big earners

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s Socialist-led coalition government said Thursday that residents whose wealth exceeds 3 million euros ($2.9 million) will be subject to a new asset tax in 2023 and 2024. Finance Minister María Jesús Montero described the temporary wealth tax, which she said will affect 23,000 people, or 0.1 % of taxpayers, as one […]
8 hours ago
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, greets dignitaries from Pacific Island Countries during th...
Associated Press

Biden’s Pacific strategy heralds new engagement in region

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Thursday unveiled a Pacific strategy designed to bolster U.S. engagement with more than a dozen island nations on issues including climate change and maritime security while pledging to expand the U.S. diplomatic presence in the region. The Biden administration released its new strategy, as well as plans for […]
8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Record heat wave puts California in fossil fuel conundrum