Accelerating clean energy and climate goals in California have policymakers thinking in unprecedented ways about how to manage the state’s power system.
California’s utilities already face a 50% renewable energy mandate to hit by 2030, and now lawmakers are debating even more ambitious targets.
A pending bill in the state Assembly would institute a 60% renewables mandate by 2030, a 40% emissions reduction, and set a 100% renewable energy target for state planning purposes. It’s already been passed by the Senate.
But California’s grid operator, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), says the state faces a complicated energy trilemma in reaching those goals: Renewables over-generation, excess natural gas capacity, and a potential shortfall of flexible generation.
Ralph Cavanagh, energy program co-director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, believes the best and simplest solution, across all the states in the West, is to expand the CAISO system.
Turning the 38 separate balancing authorities of the U.S. Western Interconnection “into one integrated efficient marketplace is the most important single thing we can do,” Cavanagh said. Then “it becomes a matter of market economics and it would be a much bigger and more diverse marketplace.”
Such a marketplace would allow the balance of supply and demand across the West. That would improve grid reliability, minimize curtailments, smooth renewables variability, and drive GHG reductions, according to a recently-released Yale Environmental Protection Clinic paper.
UCS’s Wisland agreed. “Establishing a regional grid is one of the most important tools that we can use to reduce our reliance on natural gas over the long term.”
V. John White, executive director at CEERT also agreed that the “first and best answer” is a western regional grid. But the initiative to make it happen has stalled for political reasons that have little to do with the value of the concept, he said.
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) put CAISO expansion on hold last summer amid concerns about governance over the expanded grid operator. CAISO’s Energy Imbalance Market, which allows power trading with surrounding balancing authorities, continues to expand, but full-fledged expansion talks are still stalled.