EIA: Southern California trying to shore up capacity needs

Southern California’s electric power system faces a number of challenges heading into the summer peak demand season, largely because of the prolonged outage of the two units at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), which have been offline since January 2012.

A combination of recent capacity additions and electric system upgrades made since June 2012 will help meet peak electric demand this summer, said the U.S. Energy Information Administration in its June 7 Today in Energy feature. Southern California Edison, a unit of Edison International (NYSE: EIX), announced June 7 that it would no longer try to restart SONGS and would retire it instead.

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) noted in its Summer Loads and Resources Assessment that 2,502 MW of capacity (capacity adjusted for planning purposes) have been added since June 2012, with an additional 891 MW slated to come online by June 1, 2013. The two off-line SONGS units total 2,246 MW.

“This new capacity will help make up for the loss of the generation from SONGS, but the reliability issue is more complicated than simply providing replacement generation,” said the EIA. “Geographically, SONGS is in a localized pocket of electric power demand near San Diego and Los Angeles. Given the characteristics of the electric transmission system, the loss of SONGS limits the amount of power that can be brought into the area over the transmission grid—rather than generated locally—under some conditions. Much of the new capacity lies outside of the San Diego-Los Angeles area, meaning that additional transmission upgrades are needed to supply that area.”

The local grid will be bolstered at strategic locations in the Los Angeles basin and northern San Diego County, EIA pointed out. Southern California Edison plans to reconfigure the existing 220-kV Barre-Ellis transmission line from two circuits to four by June 15, increasing the amount of electricity that transmission path can move.

However, the region also needs local sources of reactive power (a portion of generated electricity which is lost in large quantities when transmitting power over long distances, i.e. importing power from some of the new generating capacity to Southern California). Capacitors will be added to several substations by June 1, and two natural gas-fired generators at the Huntington Beach facility will be converted to synchronous condensers by June 28. Capacitors and synchronous condensers are commonly used to provide voltage support in the form of reactive power to the transmission grid. All of these system upgrades are designed to allow the system to bring more power into the region.

The two units at SONGS have been offline since January 2012 as a result of mechanical problems. Replacing the power from a low-cost source of generation like SONGS already has changed wholesale electricity prices in the state. Rising natural gas prices are likely to increase that effect in 2013, EIA added.

In its annual report, CAISO noted that 2012 wholesale power prices were higher than prices in the previous three years even when adjusted for the lower 2012 natural gas prices. In addition, EIA pointed out, the unusually large spread in wholesale electricity prices between the northern and southern portions of the state indicates system congestion.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.