Los Angeles to tap diesel fuel to help avoid power outages

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has been granted a limited variance by state regulators to use diesel fuel at certain power plants as a “last resort” this summer to avoid rolling blackouts.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) Hearing Board agreed June 15 to allow LADWP to use diesel fuel in three of its four in-basin power plants.

The unusual move was approved due to a heightened threat of power outages and subsequent temporary moratorium on injecting natural gas following the massive natural gas leak at the Southern California Gas’ Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility in 2015. Southern California Gas is a Sempra Energy (NYSE:SRE) company.

The variance approved by the SCAQMD Hearing Board granted LADWP’s request for a variance from air quality permit conditions to use diesel as an alternative fuel for 12 generating units at three gas-fired power plants—Harbor Generating Station in San Pedro, Haynes Generating Station in Long Beach and Valley Generating Station in the Northeast San Fernando Valley.

The exemption allows LADWP to run the units with diesel fuel, rather than natural gas, on short notice for a limited period to help avoid power outages on up to 14 days this summer.

The California ISO (CAISO) and other state energy agencies have found that there are significant risks to electricity deliveries, potentially leading to 14 days of electrical outages in Southern California.

LADWP announced the diesel approval in a June 17 news release.

“The use of diesel fuel at these power plants would be a last resort to avoid outages after exhausting all other options, ranging from Flex Alerts to deploying increased renewable energy,” said LADWP General Manager Marcie Edwards. “Running these plants for a short time on diesel is not something we want to do, but we may face no other choice to reduce the widespread community health and safety impacts from rolling blackouts. At any time this summer, SoCal Gas could notify us that they cannot meet the fuel requirements of our in-basin power plants, which are critical to meeting customer electricity demand on hot summer days.”

Edwards also said that having the utility use diesel at certain power plants would offset the emissions “that would result from the over 3,000 known, permitted diesel backup generators located in LADWP’s service area that would be used by critical facilities such as hospitals and businesses should rolling blackouts occur.”

Southern California power providers and regulators have been scrambling to compensate for the Aliso Canyon impact this summer. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has agreed to expedite a plan by Edison International (NYSE:EIX) utility Southern California Edison (SCE) to purchase energy storage.


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 wayneb@pennwell.com.