Rancho Mirage residents benefit from city’s community choice power program

Last year, the city of Rancho Mirage launched Rancho Mirage Energy Authority (RMEA): a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program that offers residents and local businesses an alternative to Southern California Edison (SCE), the investor-owned utility.

RMEA allows the city to procure and generate electricity for the community at lower rates than SCE. RMEA’s default choice, Base Choice, saves customers 5% on electricity when compared to SCE (generation rates).

In its first operational year, RMEA has saved the Rancho Mirage community $1.46 million in electricity costs.

Beyond lower electricity rates, RMEA’s “Base Choice” also provides 50% carbon-free energy. Customers may also opt up to the 100% renewable energy choice, Premium Renewable Choice, for a slightly higher cost. The Rancho Mirage City Council has opted up all 160 municipal meters in the city to the Premium Renewable Choice.

As a leader in sustainability, Rancho Mirage is always looking for ways to expand its sustainability efforts and RMEA has proven to be the perfect extension.

Given the sun’s power in the desert, RMEA also wanted to enhance the benefits for solar net metering customers within our community. During the formation of RMEA, the city worked with Renova Energy to ensure RMEA would enhance solar net metering benefits. Thanks to Renova Energy’s involvement and suggestions, RMEA can offer a stronger net metering program for the Rancho Mirage community.

RMEA has also enabled the city to establish a Residential Solar Rebate Program which offers residential customers a $500 rebate to install new solar power systems or expand an existing solar system. Within RMEA’s first year, ­­­­­­­­­­­­­191 customers have received $95,500 total in rebates.

RMEA was the sixth CCA program to launch in SCE’s service territory and is currently the only operational CCA in the Coachella Valley. While Rancho Mirage had the opportunity to join regional CCA efforts, the city (after extensive research) determined that launching RMEA would be the best way to serve the community.

Our viewpoint is simple: if we can deliver a better product to our community by doing it ourselves, we do it ourselves. The Rancho Mirage City Council and city staff want to be in a position to ensure our community receives the quality they deserve and rightfully expect. When there is an issue or concern, we want to be in a position to address and fix the issues, instead of deflecting to a regional runaround.

RMEA is a prime example of this viewpoint and the results speak for themselves.

Recently, RMEA secured a renewable energy long-term contract for 22 megawatts of wind power from the windmills in north Palm Springs. RMEA is also expanding local energy efficiency programs for the community. Moving forward, RMEA will continue to find opportunities to expand its renewable energy portfolio in the Coachella Valley.

The city of Rancho Mirage looks forward to lowering our carbon footprint even more and providing rate savings to customers while reinvesting revenues back into the community.

The RMEA has surpassed expectations for year one and the city of Rancho Mirage is excited to continue these efforts on behalf of residents and businesses.

Ted Weill is a member of the Rancho Mirage City Council, and has served on the panel since December 2012. Email him at tedw@ranchomirageca.gov.

 

Valley Voice: Rancho Mirage residents benefit from city’s community choice power program, by Ted Well, Desert Sun, July 2, 2019.

GE Will Shutter California Natural Gas Plant 20 Years Early

Pity poor General Electric. Once the dominant global leader in turbines for making electricity from coal or natural gas, its business has hit the skids in recent years as demand for its products has collapsed. We can thank the steep decline in the price of renewable energy for that.

Now GE has notified the California Energy Commission it is shuttering a natural gas generating facility it owns and operates in Riverside, California, according to Reuters. The Inland Empire plant was only commissioned in 2009. Such generating facilities normally have a 30-year useful life, so GE is losing two-thirds of its roughly $1 billion investment in the plant.

The problem is two-fold. One, the Inland Empire Power Plant is fitted with GE H series turbines, which have proved troublesome in service. The only other facility in the world that used the H series turbines is located in Wales. Two, those turbines are not easy to start and stop quickly. As renewables have become more common in California, the Inland Empire plant is ill-suited to ramping up when the supply of renewable energy dwindles due to a lack of sunshine or wind.

“We have made the decision to shut down operation of the Inland Empire Power Plant which has been operating below capacity for several years effective at the end of 2019,” GE told Reuters. The plant “is powered by a legacy gas turbine technology … and is uneconomical to support further.” It said in its filing with the California Energy Commission that the plant is “not designed for the needs of the evolving California market, which requires fast-start capabilities to satisfy peak demand periods.”

The Inland Empire facility has two H series turbines but one of them was shut down permanently in 2017 as changes in the California energy market made it uneconomical to keep in operation. GE now offers customers its new HA series turbines that react more quickly to changes in energy demand and eliminate the maintenance problems associated with the H Series turbines.

Reuters says the closure highlights the stiff competition in California’s deregulated energy market as cheap wind and solar supply more electricity, squeezing out fossil fuels. Some utilities say they have no plans to build more fossil plants, which is great news for the environment.

There’s a kicker to this story that CleanTechnica readers will appreciate. After the Inland Empire plant is dismantled, GE will sell the site to a company that makes battery storage units for the renewable energy market. Is that poetic justice or what?

 

GE Will Shutter California Natural Gas Plant 20 Years Early, by Steve Hanley, Clean Technica, June 21, 2019.

No, we shouldn’t pump desert groundwater near Joshua Tree to help store electricity

For years developers have tried to figure out how to repurpose Kaiser Steel’s former open-pit iron mine at Eagle Mountain in Riverside County. One idea: Use it as a massive landfill, a proposal that fortunately never came to fruition. The current owners of the site now want to convert it into an immense, $2.5-billion hydroelectric battery, using daytime power to pump water from a lower-elevation pit to a pit 1,400 feet farther up the mountain, then running the water downhill at night through turbines to create energy.

As California sprints to convert to all-renewable energy sources, it is confronting a persistent problem: what to do when the sun goes down and solar farms stop generating electricity, or when the doldrums hit and wind turbines stop churning. These sources produce more electricity than can be consumed immediately, but the grid doesn’t have the storage capacity to save the power for when night falls or the wind stops. And as a result, solar farms have been going offline or producers have been giving away their excess watts.

California already has several pumped-water storage systems, and that approach, while expensive to build, has been relatively reliable. It makes a certain amount of sense in places where water flows naturally, so long as the projects don’t harm the local environment. Still, technology may be making such systems obsolete, as developments in batteries and other storage technologies are preparing a path to cheaper and more efficient systems.

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An abandoned mine near Joshua Tree could host a massive hydropower project

An abandoned iron mine on the doorstep of Joshua Tree National Park could be repurposed as a massive hydroelectric power plant under a bill with bipartisan support in the state Legislature.

Senate Bill 772, which was approved by a panel of lawmakers last week with no dissenting votes, would require California to build energy projects that can store large amounts of power for long periods of time. It’s a type of technology the state is likely to need as utility companies buy more and more energy from solar and wind farms, which generate electricity only when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.

But SB 772 is a controversial solution to that problem. The bill could jump-start a $2.5-billion hydropower project that critics say would harm Joshua Tree National Park, draining desert groundwater aquifers and sapping above-ground springs that nourish wildlife in and around the park.

The bill is being pushed by NextEra Energy, a Florida-based company that hopes to build the proposed Eagle Mountain hydropower project.

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Southern California Edison Picks 195MW Battery Portfolio in Place of Puente Gas Plant

What started as a routine gas plant procurement ended as a testament to the changing electrical grid.

This week, utility Southern California Edison selected a roster of energy storage projects to supply local capacity needs around the coastal city of Oxnard, instead of the 262-megawatt natural-gas peaker plant it had chosen previously.

If regulators give their approval, Strata Solar will build and own a 100-megawatt/400-megawatt-hour system in Oxnard, and dispatch it on behalf of SCE.

This system will tie for largest lithium-ion battery in the world when it comes online in December 2020; the AES Alamitos plant of the same size is due around the same time.

SCE wants to complement the massive battery with a portfolio of smaller units, ranging from 10 to 40 megawatts, scattered around the area. Developers of those smaller include E.ON, Able Grid, Ormat, AltaGas and Enel. Swell, which aggregates fleets of home batteries into grid assets, won a 14-megawatt contract for behind-the-meter demand response.

The unprecedented outcome, in which independent power producer NRG saw its gas plant yanked before the final round of siting approval, marks a victory for local activists who rallied against what they saw as unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure marring the Southern California coastline, as well as clean energy providers who had to prove they were ready for prime time.

“The big takeaway is the power of community opposition,” said Earthjustice attorney Matt Vespa, who intervened in the case on behalf of the Sierra Club. “Puente was viewed as a done deal. […] It was going to be on the beach, and now we have clean energy investment in that community instead of a gas plant.”

The rapid ascent of storage

The Puente saga tracks the evolution of California grid-planning attitudes in real time.

The story began with SCE’s solicitation in 2013, in which NRG won a contract to replace retiring gas plants in the area.

Capacity planning was simpler then: predict regional reliability needs, build gas plants to meet them. Batteries were growing their share of the frequency regulation market in PJM territory, but they were not competing for longer-duration power plant duties.

That changed over the following years. When the Aliso Canyon gas leak left swaths of Southern California under-resourced for local capacity, the state fast-tracked battery procurements to fill the gap. They got up and running within half a year, swifter than conventional power plant permitting allows, and the grid held firm despite the gas constraint.

By the time NRG sought final siting approval from the California Energy Commission in 2017, storage was taking on a larger role in the state’s grid planning ecosystem. Stakeholders pushed for an evaluation of gas plant alternatives before regulators signed off on Puente.

The grid operator, CAISO, initially determined that energy storage could fulfill the reliability needs, but that it would cost nearly three times as much. That analysis relied on outdated storage pricing data that exaggerated the technology’s costs, GTM reported at the time.

Within months, the commissioners signaled their intent to reject the gas plant and SCE decided to launch a new solicitation to see exactly how competitive storage and other resources had become. This week’s announcement wraps up that process; all that remains is final signoff from regulators.

During this time, California passed SB 100, which commits to a zero-carbon grid by 2045. Obeying that law requires phasing out gas for flexible capacity, with storage a front-runner to replace it.

That process is underway in select locations. Utility PG&E procured a series of huge batteries in November 2018 rather than pay to keep aging gas plants online for reliability purposes south of the San Francisco Bay. Los Angeles committed to phasing out gas powerrather than rebuilding three plants in its territory.

When Oxnard pushed back on Puente, there wasn’t much of a roadmap for how to do it. Now that approach is growing increasingly common.

“We got told so many times that we had to have Puente to keep the lights on,” Vespa said. “Communities all over the country are fighting this type of stuff. Hopefully this can be an example to not give up and keep pushing, no matter what you’re told.”

Test case for other states

Oxnard created a new, more creative paradigm for evaluating local reliability. Now the batteries need to work.

Since energy storage resources have finite capacities, they cannot run indefinitely like gas plants with sufficient supply. That requires different sorts of planning to ensure enough power to serve the community during peak or grid-constraint events.

That said, batteries provide operational benefits that gas plants lack, besides operating without local emissions (the greenhouse gas profile of the batteries depends on the mix of grid fuels when the battery charges).

“You need to match a technology to the need,” said Strata VP of Energy Storage Joshua Rogol. “The solution might look a little bit different, but…storage can provide valuable services to the grid when it’s not waiting around for a peak.”

The 20-year resource adequacy contract leaves Strata free to monetize the battery’s energy and ancillary benefits as a participant in the CAISO market, when it isn’t called on to fulfill its obligation to SCE. That in turn helps improve the project economics relative to a system that only operates during peak events.

Strata started out as a solar developer in North Carolina and branched into storage development over the last 18 months. While it may be a newcomer to large-scale storage, its accomplishments on the solar side demonstrate an aptitude for working at scale. The company has installed 1.5 gigawatts of solar, owns 1 gigawatt and operates an O&M portfolio of 2 gigawatts. Its U.S. energy storage pipeline has grown to 3 gigawatt-hours, Rogol said.

California led the early storage market, with a suite of supportive policies and regulatory support. The demand Strata has seen, however, cuts across many states, not to mention regulated and competitive markets, Rogol noted.

“We’ve been keeping a close eye on where there are constraints in the grid, where there’s thermal capacity coming offline, and looking at where the storage technology can solve a problem,” he said. “Our pipeline has increased exponentially in looking at storage replacing traditional generation for capacity.”

Batteries at the once-mindblowing 100-megawatt scale are becoming increasingly commonplace, in utility project announcements if not yet in practice. As sheer scale loses its shock value, displacing gas plants in head-to-head competition could offer a new way to impress.

 

Southern California Edison Picks 195MW Battery Portfolio in Place of Puente Gas Plant, by Julian Spector, Greentech Media, April 25, 2019.

LA traffic top cause of smog for valley, but area power plants, hospitals and tram also contributors

Conrad Lopez notices it late at night: a bloom of smoke blowing from the power plant within eyeshot of his home and 40-acre date farm, blotting the sky over Mecca. Drivers on Route 86 often see billowing black clouds streaming out of the plant too.

The Desert View Power facility bills itself online as a producer of “reliable green energy” that burns urban wood waste, dead orchard trees and even fruit pits. But records show it’s the largest single emitter of smog-causing pollutants in the Coachella Valley — producing nine times as much as the second largest source, the Sentinel Energy Center natural gas-fired plant near Desert Hot Springs.

Nearly 190 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and 4 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) poured skyward last year from the Desert View plant. Those are the building blocks of dangerous ozone, swirling in hot California sunshine to produce smog linked to asthma and serious lung disease. Along with 375,000 megawatts of power, the plant also produced particulate soot and other pollutants that cause heart disease, cancer and strokes.

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San Jacinto Power Celebrates Its One-Year Anniversary

San Jacinto Power (SJP), the City of San Jacinto’s Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program, celebrated its one-year anniversary on April 1, 2019. The City launched SJP a year earlier in partnership with California Choice Energy Authority (CalChoice), providing residents and local businesses, for the first time in history, an alternative energy provider to Southern California Edison (SCE).

“SJP has been a rewarding program for the City and our entire community since the first day,” said Robert Johnson, City of San Jacinto City Manager. “The program is helping our City achieve its environmental sustainability goals and at the same time residents and local businesses are benefiting from incredible rate savings.”

Since SJP’s launch, residents and local businesses in the San Jacinto community have benefited from three percent rate savings compared to costs with SCE. As a CCA program, SJP purchases directly from energy retailers which minimizes inessential costs and allows SJP to offer lower rates. SJP saved the community $855,000 in energy costs between April and November 2018 and savings are projected to continue.

“This is an excellent milestone for SJP,” said CalChoice Executive Director Jason Caudle. “The City has built a great program for its community and we are excited to continue supporting its operation.”

Beyond rate savings, residents and local businesses can also expect new, SJP-funded community programs to launch in the near future. The City plans to install solar-powered ballasts and new streetlights to increase visibility within the community. They also intend to partner with local businesses on long-term power opportunities, solar rooftop projects, and electronic signage programs.

“The City looks forward to creating new programs and improving San Jacinto with the help of our new SJP revenue stream,” said City of San Jacinto Deputy City Manager Tom Prill. “We’ve had a great first year with SJP and we are excited to continue providing the community with rate savings, clean energy and new programs.”

 

San Jacinto Power Celebrates Its One-Year Anniversary, by Public CEO staff, Public CEO, April 19, 2019.

LA leads nation in solar power, Riverside is up and coming, report says

Los Angeles produces more solar power than any city in America, with San Diego a distant second, according to a new study that looked at sun-generated electricity in 57 U.S. cities from 2013-2018.

The City of Angels’ No. 1 ranking is part of an overall six-year growth trend in which solar energy doubled in 45 of 57 of America’s largest cities, according to the report: “Shining Cities 2019: The Top U.S. Cities for Solar Energy” written by Environment America Research & Policy Center and released Tuesday.

One of the up-and-coming municipalities in solar energy is the city of Riverside, which was ranked No. 8 out of 22 cities across the nation for producing 50 or more watts of solar power per person as measured at the end of 2018, according to the report.

Riverside supplies a total of 45.3 megawatts of solar power, or 138.3 watts per person, just behind Indianapolis, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Burlington, Vermont, San Jose and San Diego. Honolulu is way out in front in per capita solar distribution at 646.6 watts.

The Inland Empire city also was one of 19 that quadrupled production from 2013-2018 and was the only city in California to make that list.

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City of Fontana receives recognition from SCE for energy efficiency efforts

Representatives from Southern California Edison (SCE) and the San Bernardino Council of Governments (SBCOG) presented the City of Fontana with an award for being a local leader in energy efficient efforts through the San Bernardino Regional Energy Partnership.

City staff earned the Gold tier recognition by participating in SCE’s direct install program, an HVAC optimization program, and also converting both city-owned and SCE-owned streetlights to LED. These projects resulted in more than $1 million in rebates and incentives.

Through ongoing energy efficient efforts, the City of Fontana is on its way to obtaining Platinum status in the very near future, making it the first city in the partnership to reach the top tier.

“The City of Fontana has achieved a 45 percent savings from our 2006 baseline consumption, which is the equivalent of powering 425 homes in one year or removing 517 passenger vehicles from the road for one year,” said Energy Efficiency Project Coordinator Shawn Matejcek.

Less than a year ago, the City of Fontana was recognized for achieving the Silver tier in SCE’s Energy Leadership Model, which was accomplished by obtaining a combination of energy efficiency savings, community outreach and participation in demand response programs.

In late 2015, the San Bernardino Council of Governments implemented the San Bernardino Regional Energy Partnership, which is a program between SBCOG, Southern California Edison and SoCalGas that was identified in the California Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan for creating a framework to address the need for long-term energy efficiency goals and savings throughout the state.

 

City of Fontana receives recognition from SCE for energy efficiency efforts, by Herald News Staff, The Herald News, March 28, 2019.

California cannabis cultivator to power indoor production with solar energy

March 19 (Renewables Now) – US cannabis cultivator Canndescent has completed a 282.6-kW solar power system to supply electricity to its indoor production facility in Desert Hot Springs, California.

This is the cannabis industry’s first commercial-scale solar project, the company said in a statement on Monday. After two years of trying to win project approval and financing, Canndescent managed to build the solar array in eight weeks.

“Given the restrictions around cannabis banking and lending and the complexities of energy projects and California civil construction in general, this was extraordinarily difficult to pull off,” said Tom DiGiovanni, Canndescent’s chief compliance officer.

The solar system consists of 734 solar modules installed on seven different carport structures. The photovoltaic (PV) array can now reduce annual atmospheric carbon emissions by 365 tonnes.

Canndescent noted it has further solar project plans and will share them in a white paper in the second quarter of the year.

 

California cannabis cultivator to power indoor production with solar energy, by Ivan Shumkov, Renewable Now, March 19, 2019.