Gizmodo Blames Natural Gas for California’s Rolling Black Outs

Guest “too fracking funny” by David Middleton

CLIMATE CHANGE
Renewable Energy Isn’t to Blame for California’s Blackouts

Dharna Noor
Wednesday

On Friday and Saturday, hundreds of thousands of Californians had their power cut for a spurt in the evening. And more of this could be in store in the coming days as record breaking heat beats down on the state and wildfires burn out of control.

State officials have said the need for the shutoffs shows the inadequacies of renewable power. On Monday, Stephen Berberich, president of California’s Independent System Operator (CAISO), the agency which made the call to enact the rolling shutoffs, blamed the California Public Utilities Commission for failing to ensure adequate power capacity on hot nights after the sun sets. That’s when electricity generated by the state’s solar panels drops to zero but demand for air conditioning remains high. The implication, that transitioning away from fossil fuels has made California’s energy less reliable, could work in the gas industry’s favor, since the state is reviewing proposals to keep several natural gas plants in Southern California online.

[…]

But despite Berberich’s and other’s assertions, there is no evidence that solar actually failed at all. In fact, energy experts have noted that based on the energy reserves that are available, the state should be able to handle the peak electricity demand that increased air conditioning use amid the heat wave is causing.

[…]

The heat wave is causing a spike in energy demand, and the state did lose some sources of power at the same time, causing what CAISO called a “perfect storm” of events. But the biggest power sources that went offline this past weekend weren’t solar power plants. CAISO’s own data shows that on Friday when the blackouts were announced, the solar supply remained pretty consistent, but the state’s natural gas supply underperformed by 400 megawatts.

“It was actually gas that failed,” said Shana Lazerow, a staff attorney at environmental justice nonprofit Communities for a Better Environment. “We should be talking about how gas is unreliable.”

Wind energy also underperformed over the weekend, producing about 1,000 megawatts below state analysts’ expectations. 

[…]

Even if the heat waves had caused an insurmountable spike in energy demand, Stokes said moving away from renewables would be exactly the wrong response.

“Let’s be real, why do we have heat waves right now, across the western U.S.? It’s because of climate change,” she said. “Parts of California … have warmed more than 2 degrees Celsius [3.6 degrees Fahrenheit]. These are places that historically didn’t need air conditioning, and now they do because they’re seeing record high temperatures for days in a row, so people are going to need more electricity. And that is because we have burned fossil fuels for over 100 years.”

Gizmodo

Before I move on to the natural gas nonsense, this bit is irresistible:

Even if the heat waves had caused an insurmountable spike in energy demand, Stokes said moving away from renewables would be exactly the wrong response.

“Let’s be real, why do we have heat waves right now, across the western U.S.? It’s because of climate change,” she said.

“Even if the heat waves had caused an insurmountable spike in energy demand…moving away from” unreliable energy sources “would be exactly the wrong response” because… Drum roll, please… climate change”. I really couldn’t make this sort of schist up, if I tried.

On to the natural gas nonsense

The heat wave is causing a spike in energy demand, and the state did lose some sources of power at the same time, causing what CAISO called a “perfect storm” of events. But the biggest power sources that went offline this past weekend weren’t solar power plants. CAISO’s own data shows that on Friday when the blackouts were announced, the solar supply remained pretty consistent, but the state’s natural gas supply underperformed by 400 megawatts.

Both the “solar supply” and natural gs supply” links go to this document:

CAISO Briefing on system operations, August 17, 2020

Neither “natural gas” nor “gas” appear anywhere in the document. There is an entry about losing 475 MW of generating capacity at 2:56 PM on Friday August 14, but it doesn’t specify what that capacity was. Here’s the timeline:

The lack of resources was identified on August 12 and power plant operators were notified to restrict maintenance operations,

Here are Friday’s details:

At noon, they realized they would not be able to obtain additional resources, lost 475 MW of generation capacity, dispatched “contingency reserves” and began rolling blackouts until about 8 PM, when demand decreased. Then on Saturday, the wind acted up:

So the wind kicked up and reliable generation (natural gas) had to rapidly ramp down… Then the wind died and reliable generation (natural gas) had to rapidly ramp up. Mind boggling.

At this point, they were looking at a resource deficiency of up to 4,400 MW on Monday, as demand ramped up and solar ramped down:

Somehow, natural gas is to blame for this:

According to CAISO, the factors that could affect their maximum generating capacity from 5 to 8 PM were:

Capacity to meet peak hour load approximately 46,000 MW but can
be ultimately be affected by:

• Resource and transmission outages
• Fires affecting transmission availability
• Availability of imports based on west wide load and supply conditions
• Cloud cover affecting solar production
• Weather conditions affecting wind production
• Hydro conditions
• Ambient derates to conventional generators due to heat

Capacity to meet 8 pm (net load peak) demand approximately
43,000 MW
• Lower due to no solar production after sunset

Can anyone see anything in this document that supports this claim?

“It was actually gas that failed,” said Shana Lazerow, a staff attorney at environmental justice nonprofit Communities for a Better Environment. “We should be talking about how gas is unreliable.”

I can’t even find the quote anywhere else, except in an article quoting the Gizmodo nonsense.

“It was actually gas that failed,” while solar performed as designed

The closest support I can find for this claim, is from this Mercury News article:

California grid operator warned of power shortages as state transitioned to clean energy
Growing shortfall as solar power goes offline in early evenings

By PAUL ROGERS | progers@bayareanewsgroup.com | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: August 17, 2020

[…]

[L]ast fall, top officials at California’s power grid operator ominously warned that electricity shortages were likely as soon as 2020 during a big Western heat wave. The reason: The state’s historic shift away from fossil fuels such as natural gas, which provide consistent power, toward cleaner sources such as solar and wind energy, which rise and fall with the weather and the sun.

With less reliable energy supplies, they say the power grid has become more difficult to operate and more at risk of blackouts, calling it a “most urgent issue” that “really needs timely attention.”

[…]

“We have a much more risky supply of energy now because the sun doesn’t always shine when we want and the wind doesn’t always blow when we want,” said Frank Wolak, a Stanford University economics professor who specializes in energy markets. “We need more tools to manage that risk. We need more insurance against the supply shortfalls.”

The blackouts are not a surprise.

[…]

Starting Friday as temperatures soared above 100 degrees and hit 110 in some parts of the state, the warnings came true. The ISO ordered utilities such as PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric to impose rolling blackouts over the next two days and warned millions could lose power this week. ISO officials said two natural gas power plants in California had gone offline, demand for electricity was higher than they expected, and not enough power was available from other states to close the gap.

Wolak, of Stanford, said the state should make efforts to keep gas-power plants around until battery storage technology for solar plants can be ramped up.

One long-time industry official agreed.

“Some folks in the environmental community want to shut down all the gas plants. That would be a disaster,” said Jan Smutny Jones, CEO of the Independent Energy Producers Association, a trade association representing solar, wind, geothemal and gas power plants. “Last night 60% of the power in the ISO was being produced by those gas plants. They are your insurance policy to get through heat waves.”

Many of the state’s gas plants have become less competitive because they are more expensive to run than solar, he said. In fact, some have been shutting down on their own because utilities are buying more power from solar and wind.

Jones also said utilities should be required to sign more contracts with generating companies to lock up power to provide a better cushion during heat waves and other events, even if they never use that power. Some utilities have resisted because of the cost.

“Nobody likes to pay for insurance,” he said. “But if you need a heart transplant, or your house burns down, you’re glad you had it.”

[…]

Mercury News

Natural gas is supposed to work 24/7. Solar is supposed to stop working as the Sun goes down… Therefore, when two natural gas-fired power plants went offline… “It was actually gas that failed,” while solar performed as designed. The problem with this line of thinking (or lack thereof), is that all power plants are subject to going offline for mechanical reasons, often related to weather.

When you are relying on natural gas as your “insurance” policy and you keep dialing back your coverage as your potential need for that insurance is growing, you’re literally playing with fire.

From the Soviet Union of Concerned Scientists:

Natural Gas Power Plant Retirements in California
MARK SPECHT, ENERGY ANALYST | FEBRUARY 25, 2019

As the rest of the country rushes to build natural gas power plants, California continues to downsize its fleet. While the official numbers are not yet in, 2018 appears to have been a big year for natural gas power plant retirements in California.

California saw three big plant retirements last year: Encina (854 MW), Mandalay (560 MW), and Etiwanda (640 MW). The retirement of Encina and Mandalay was no surprise – those two plants used ocean water for cooling, and California has been phasing out plants that use that cooling technology because of its harmful effects on marine life. On the other hand, Etiwanda shut down simply because it was not making enough money. While California has figured out solutions to keep the electric grid operating reliably without the Mandalay and Etiwanda power plants, Encina is being replaced by the Carlsbad Energy Center, a new 500 MW natural gas power plant.

A dwindling fleet

These retirements in 2018 continue California’s downward trend in natural gas power plant capacity. California’s gas fleet peaked in 2013 with just over 47,000 MW of gas capacity, but California has shed roughly 5,000 MW of gas capacity since then.

[…]

Soviet Union of Concerned Scientists

Soviet Union of Concerned Scientists

Since 2013, California has shut down 5,000 MW of natural gas-fired generating capacity and on August 17, 2020, they were looking at a 4,400 MW shortfall as the Sun was going down.

Too fracking funny!

How do people get to be this stupid?

According to LinkedIn Dharna Noor, author of the Gizmodo article, has a 2014 BA in political philosophy, social science and vocal music. Shana Lazerow is an environmental attorney (’nuff said). The energy analyst for the Soviet Union of Concerned Scientists has even more humorous qualifications:

Mr. Specht earned a BA in integrated science and science in human culture from Northwestern University, and an MA in philosophy from the University of Otago in New Zealand.

SUoCS

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August 21, 2020 at 04:08PM

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