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.

Green power runs up against desert conservation in California

California lawmakers’ grand ambitions to fight climate change are running into a familiar obstacle: the parochial concerns of local governments and property owners.

The latest battle over state needs vs. local control is being fought in San Bernardino County, where the Board of Supervisors voted last month to ban solar and wind farms across vast stretches of rural desert communities. The decision was cheered by residents who have complained that the proliferation of large renewable energy projects threatened to wipe out their scenic vistas and upend the fragile desert ecosystem.

San Bernardino County’s ban comes just as California is supposed to be dramatically ramping up its renewable energy usage as part of the state’s effort to slash the carbon emissions that promote climate change. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring utility companies to get 60% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and 100% from zero-carbon sources by 2045. And demand for power is only going to grow as California shifts the transportation sector from fuel pumps to the electric grid through battery-powered cars, buses and trucks.

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Including community’s input vital in achieving successful clean energy transition

Last session, California’s State Legislators voted to move California to 100 percent carbon-free energy. While national attention has shifted on the dire situation the National Climate Assessment Report foretells, right now, here, in the Inland Empire, nearly a third of our days registered poor air quality; thus, reducing pollutants with clean energy is of critical importance to the health of our communities. But how we approach that effort will be important to our region’s economic health as well.

When I think about the future of clean energy in the Inland Empire, I think about the people. I think about Pat, a lifelong San Bernardino resident who suffered for years through the region’s increasingly hot summers because she couldn’t afford to turn on her air conditioning. After my organization installed a solar electric system on her home through a state incentive program, she got not just clean power, but much-needed relief from the summer’s heat. I think of Pancho, who after being laid off from his job at a casino, got training in solar through the same state-funded program and was able to start a whole new career.

What Pat and Pancho show us is that smart people-first policies can address pollution and provide economic opportunities at the same time. We can clean up the air at the same time that we reduce energy bills for grandmothers and provide jobs for our youth. We’re already starting to do this with solar through programs like the Single-family Affordable Solar Homes program that helped Pat and Pancho, and SOMAH, the state’s newest program to bring solar to tenants of multifamily affordable housing, and seeing the positive impact it’s having on people’s lives around the region and the state. What more can we do, and how?

For starters, we can ask Pat and Pancho. It’s the day-to-day lived experiences of our residents, their ideas and their leadership, that will drive real solutions. It’s the families in Mira Loma Village, where children are suffering from asthma and reduced lung capacity from diesel fumes, whose voices should inform our transportation policies. It’s the folks getting laid off from heavy industry and fossil fuel development whose ideas and passions should inform our workforce development programs. Only by actively listening to and engaging with our communities can we begin to find solutions that truly benefit everyone.

The new Inland Economic Growth & Opportunity (IEGO) initiative is a great example of this model at work. Private- and public-sector leaders and community stakeholders from Riverside and San Bernardino Counties are coming together to identify priority sectors for investment, like solar, that can improve our economy, offer opportunities for youth and those facing un- an underemployment, and make residents’ lives better.

Moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources is non-negotiable when it comes to improving the health and vitality of our communities, and SB100 is putting us on the right path. Now it’s up to us to make sure we’re embarking on the transition in a way that will lift everyone. Making space for the voices of our community members in the process, and honoring that leadership, is one of the most important things our policymakers can do to achieve a truly successful clean energy transition.

Bambi Tran is the Executive Director for GRID Alternatives in the Inland Empire.

 

Including community’s input vital in achieving successful clean energy transition, by Bambi Tran, Inland Empire Community News, March 11, 2019.

It’s lights out on big solar in San Bernardino County desert

Developers will no longer be allowed to develop large renewable energy projects in certain areas of the San Bernardino County desert.

After a five-hour public hearing Tuesday, Feb. 28, the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to prohibit utility-oriented renewable energy development in rural zones and the unincorporated communities of Bloomington, Muscoy, Bear Valley, Crest Forest, Hilltop, Lake Arrowhead, Lytle Creek, Oak Glen, Homestead Valley, Joshua Tree, Lucerne Valley, Morongo Valley, Oak Hills and Phelan/Phelan Hills.

About five dozen people addressed the supervisors, including residents supportive of the ban, union members who oppose the ban because they want the construction jobs generated by the (mostly solar) projects, and developers and utilities looking to add alternative energy to the power grid.

“There are tens of thousands of acres for these projects to go where they don’t impact any areas within the desert or communities,” said 1st District Supervisor Robert Lovingood, adding that the county is already the largest producer of thermal electric energy in the state. “In this case, there are alternatives that need to be looked at that don’t disturb, or impact, or create any loss of jobs.”

The policy, commonly referred to as Policy 4.10, is part of the county’s Renewable Energy and Conservation Element in the General Plan. The element was approved in August 2017, but the supervisors sent the policy back to planning.

In May, the Planning Commission rejected a revision that would have required projects to be approved on a case-by-case basis, rather than a flat out prohibition, in favor of the original policy.

Still, commissioners were concerned that the policy was too restrictive. So on Tuesday the supervisors agreed to include language that allows developers to apply for a General Plan amendment, or a boundary change, if they have a site that meets the county’s criteria but is within the prohibited zones. Any exception, however, would require supervisor approval.

Some developers and utility company representatives found the policy too restrictive, saying it limits development to areas that are already disturbed from uses such as agriculture and mining and the remote areas of Amboy, El Mirage, Hinkley, Kramer Junction and Trona.

Eight projects currently are being reviewed by the county. More than 20 have been approved in the past decade.

Justin Lanford, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 477, has worked on many of the solar projects previously approved in the county. He opposes a ban on solar projects.

“All of (the solar projects) that I’ve worked on have followed the rules very strictly in regards to environmental impacts,” Lanford said. “Also, there’s a lot of jobs that are created by these projects. Yeah, they’re temporary jobs, but that’s what we make our livelihood off of.”

But some residents say the prohibition will protect communities from potential health hazards caused by blowing dust, which increases when pristine desert land is disturbed by construction. They also cited the protection of scenic views, carbon sequestration from desert vegetation, and preservation of habitat and wildlife as reasons to prohibit large solar development.

“You’ve been told by many, including solar developers, labor (and) the construction business that they are stakeholders in our community. They are not stakeholders in our community,” said Brian Hammer, who owns property adjacent to a proposed solar project in Lucerne Valley. “They have no enduring interest in the long term health of our community. They will use us and leave us with the environmental mess and community nightmare that will last for decades.”

Chairman Curt Hagman voted against the policy, saying the county’s definition of utility-scale development could prevent future projects that use advanced technology to generate energy on fewer acres.

Under the new rules a project is considered to be utility-oriented if more than 50 percent of the energy generated is for use outside the local area and and is sent to the energy grid. This does not include community-oriented renewable energy, such as rooftop and parking lot solar panels.

In addition to Policy 4.10, the supervisors approved a rule to allow existing energy generation sites in prohibited areas to continue operating and make technology upgrades. They also approved a policy to encourage developers to work with state and federal agencies to build on public land, which makes up most county property.

 

It’s lights out on big solar in San Bernardino County desert, by Sandra Emerson, San Bernardino Sun, February 28, 2019.

San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors to consider guidelines for renewable energy development in the desert

controversial policy regulating renewable energy development in unincorporated San Bernardino County is headed back to the Board of Supervisors, about a year and a half after it was sent back to planning.

The policy, which will be considered during a special meeting Thursday, Feb. 28, prohibits utility-oriented renewable energy projects in rural living and several unincorporated communities because of their potential negative impacts on air quality and the environment.

Developers have found the policy too restrictive as it limits where they can build these developments, mainly solar, which have been encouraged by the state’s environmental laws to reduce greenhouse gases. Union members, too, support the projects for the construction jobs they create.

Many desert residents, however, have come out against these projects, citing increases in sand blowing through their communities during and after construction; disruption of scenic views and wildlife corridors; as well as a reduction in carbon sequestration from the loss of desert vegetation, among other concerns.

“I think there’s pretty good support for this and they might even wish it could be stronger,” said Terri Rahhal, director of the county’s land use services department. “On the development side, they don’t want any restrictions, so I think they’re not happy with it. But, it’s the best compromise we could come up with over the period of two or three years now.”

The policy is part of the broader Renewable Energy and Conservation Element in the county’s General Plan.

In August 2017, the supervisors approved the element after a five-hour standing-room-only public hearing. They heard from residents, environmentalists, developers and unions before voting to send the policy back to the Planning Commission for further review.

In May, the Planning Commission rejected a revised policy that proposed a project-by-project approach, rather than a flat-out prohibition, in favor of the original policy.

The item was placed on the agenda for Nov. 6, Election Day, but was postponed.

Prohibition in the desert

A state mandate that electric utilities obtain a certain percentage of their power from renewable energy sources led to an influx of applications from developers looking to build solar farms and facilities on unincorporated county land in the desert.

The main policy under consideration by the supervisors, which is commonly referred to as Policy 4.10, is meant to minimize the impact on desert residents by prohibiting utility-oriented renewable energy developments where they live. This includes zones designated as rural living and the communities of Bloomington, Muscoy, Bear Valley, Crest Forest, Hilltop, Lake Arrowhead, Lytle Creek, Oak Glen, Homestead Valley, Joshua Tree, Lucerne Valley, Morongo Valley, Oak Hills and Phelan/Phelan Hills.

Developers could still build on land previously used for mining or agriculture and the more remote desert areas of Amboy, El Mirage, Hinkley, Kramer Junction and Trona. They are also being encouraged to work with state and federal agencies to build on their public land in the desert.

If approved, the policy would fit under the element chapter that outlines policies for protecting residents from blowing dust and sand, as well as scenic and cultural resources; wildlife and water quality.

In addition to Policy 4.10, the supervisors will consider a policy that would allow renewable energy projects already operating in the prohibited zones to make improvements and technology upgrades. They will also consider a policy the emphasizes cooperation with state and federal agencies to build these projects on public land.

An issue with dust control

Residents give several reasons why these projects should not be allowed, but an increase in sand and dust resulting from the removal of desert vegetation is a big one.

Mona Doles describes her experience living across the street from the 22-acre solar farm on Mountain View Road in Newberry Springs as “pure hell.”

After the farm was built in 2011, Doles said sand dunes as high as 10 feet started forming on her property. She said the sand gets into her home and keeps her trapped inside on windy days. She’s also concerned about its effect on her health.

“I don’t know how many wheelbarrows full my son has hauled and dumped out in different locations just to keep the house from getting buried,” said Doles, 63, who purchased the property with her late-husband in 2005.

Canada-based Stace Electrical BOP Solutions, which purchased the farm in 2017, has done some clean up on her property, Doles said the sand keeps blowing and is now suing for monetary damages, a tractor to help remove the sand and a home air-filtration system.

“I’m going to do whatever it takes,” Doles said. “I know I’ve been told I’m irritating, but I do what I need to do to take care of myself and my family.”

Rahhal said the company is working with county code enforcement to make improvements, and the solar farm has served as a “lessons learned” situation.

Since the county saw its first renewable energy developments go in, the review procedures have gotten more detailed and restrictive, Rahhal said. They also require a dust management plan during construction and operation, she said.

“So we’ve come light years, I would say, in the way we review the projects in the first place,” Rahhal said.

The future of solar in the desert

It’s hard to say for sure what the future holds for solar plants in the desert.

While the policy, if approved, would prohibit future renewable energy projects in these areas, it may not necessarily stop those already in the planning process.

As of February, there were several active projects in various stages of the planning process, including a 3,500-acre solar farm in Daggett as well as a 483-acre and a 664-acre solar project proposed in Lucerne Valley currently undergoing environmental review, according to the county’s website.

Brian Hammer, whose property is about 30 feet away from the proposed 483-acre Ord Mountain Solar project in Lucerne Valley, has been among a group of residents fighting to keep these developments away from their homes.

“We’re playing whack-a-mole with the projects that are already out there,” Hammer said. “Our hope is that 4.10 will shut the door and allow us to focus on fighting the ones that are there – not because we don’t like solar. There isn’t a person that I’ve met in the group over the years that isn’t pro-solar, but in the right spot.”

The public hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 28 at the county government center, 385 N. Arrowhead Ave., in San Bernardino.

 

San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors to consider guidelines for renewable energy development in the desert, by Sandra Emerson, San Bernardino Sun, February 22, 2019.