Los Angeles Business Journal

Power Up Coast’s Natural Gas Plants

OP-ED By John T. Young Jr. Monday, October 28, 2013

Building a prosperous energy future for Southern California night be one of the greatest collective challenges the state’s policy influencers and energy industry leaders have ever faced.

That challenge became even more daunting earlier this year when Southern California Edison announced its decision permanently to close the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The facility will undergo a decommissioning process that is set to take place over about 10 years.

Regardless of what you think about whether the nuclear facility should have been shuttered, the fact is that San Onofre was responsible for providing a massive amount of power to Southern California homes. When operational, it produced 2,200 megawatts, enough to power about 1.4 million homes.

Now, aside from issues complicating the region’s long-term energy future, state leaders must solve the difficult problem of replacing a power supply that Southern California families are already depending on every day.

Over the last few months, there has been a great deal of discussion on this issue among a diverse array of stakeholders, from energy industry leaders to environmentalists. Many advocates of renewable energy expansion have suggested that about half of this outstanding power demand could conceivably be met using renewable resources like solar power.

While renewable energy will play an increasingly significant role in California’s energy future, it is a long way from being capable of filling in the gap that will be left by San Onofre’s decommissioning. Even the most optimistic renewable energy advocates admit that expanding our capacity to generate these resources would require energy loan programs and other expensive initiatives to create and grow an energy infrastructure that doesn’t currently exist on a broad scale.

California Public Utilities Commissioner Michel Florio recently acknowledged, “In the next five or 10 years, we don’t yet have the technology to provide the 24-7 reliability people have come to expect, with renewables.”

Filling the regional energy gap left by San Onofre is a critical energy issue, and the immediate stakes couldn’t be higher. So, instead of using this crucial moment to focus on the development of a renewable energy infrastructure that, even when the technology is developed, will take decades and billions of dollars to incorporate, we should prioritize the identification of concrete, near-term options for rebuilding a reliable supply of affordable base-load energy for Southern California.

According to a report from the California Senate’s Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee, the L.A. Basin has a handful of existing coastal power plants – in El Segundo, Redondo Beach, Alamitos and Huntington Beach – that are allowed to operate at only a fraction of their capacities. Together, they are authorized by regulators to deliver a maximum of 1,400-1,800 megawatts. Their collective capacity is easily more than twice that amount at about 4,475 megawatts.

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