In California emphasis shifts from least-cost to least-polluting sources

In the California electric system of the future, “least-cost” generation resources are not as vital as they used to be and “least-polluting” resources gain more importantce.

This was the assessment offered in a presentation prepared for GenForum by California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Regulatory Analyst Stephen St. Marie. This new approach could mean increased costs for consumers, St. Marie said.

GenForum is part of the PennWell POWER-GEN International in Las Vegas. GenForum is organized by GenerationHub.

In California, there are more than 200 electric generation units and more than 32,000 miles of electric transmission lines along with an extensive network of natural gas pipelines.

The state’s power portfolio has been changing in recent years. Policy changes have curtailed the amount of coal-fired power being imported into th state. The state is also down to one nuclear plant now after closure of the Edison International (NYSE:EIX) San Onofre complex.

In addition, drought has shrank the amount of power that California gets from hydroelectric resources in recent years. After accounting nearly a quarter of California’s net generation from conventional sources during some years in the 1990s, hydro provided less than 15% in 2012 and 2013, according to data provided by St. Marie.

Natural gas accounted for nearly 60% of California generation in 2016.

Meanwhile, California have been charting a new energy course that would be less reliant on fossil fuels and “central station” power plants

The state has announcd plans to go with 50% renewable energy by 2030. California is also seeking to attain an 80% reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“As energy technology is changing, California is preparing for a new day when electric energy no long flows exclusively from central station power plants to customers,” St. Marie said in the presentation. California hopes to tap “customer-side” generation systems including rooftop solar and many other options for commercial and industrial customers.

CPUC is developing distribution resources plans and implementing an energy storage mandate. California is also planning for smart meters to play a growing role in the electric grid.


About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at