Record heat wave puts California in the dilemma of fossil fuels

Sacramento, California (AP) – A record heat wave has put California in a fossil fuel dilemma: The state has had to rely more on natural gas to produce electricity and avoid blackouts as Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration moves toward ending oil and gas use.

The heatwave that began more than a week ago was hotter and longer than any other in the state, and it was causing an unprecedented strain on energy supplies. This prompted Newsom to appeal to people to use less power to avoid blackouts — a practice that involves cutting off some people’s power to save power so that the lights stay on for everyone else.

This effort succeeded, but meeting the country’s growing demand for energy also required revitalizing natural gas-powered generators, which are still a major part of the country’s energy picture. The Democratic governor’s calls for conservation have also drawn criticism over the new state’s policies governing electric cars And other actions that will only increase the demand for energy.

Newsom, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, said “extremely extreme” conditions required the state to switch to more natural gas as a backup source.

“We all want to speed up degassing, but it’s a sobering reminder of reality,” he said.

Tuesday’s demand of 52,000 megawatts hit a record high, with triple-digit temperatures blanketing most of the state. Sacramento set a record high of 116 degrees (47 degrees Celsius), and high temperatures typically reached in cooler places like San Francisco and San Diego.

Demand will only rise in the coming years. By 2045, when the state is tasked with getting all of its electricity from non-carbon or renewable sources, demand is expected to reach 78,000 megawatts due to more electrical home appliances and cars on the road, according to estimates by the California Energy Commission.

To meet this demand, both the government and major utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric are expanding renewable sources such as solar and wind power, as well as large-scale batteries that can store this energy for use at night. The California Public Utilities Commission last year ordered utilities to purchase enough additional power for 2.5 million homes by 2026.

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Newsom just signed a law aimed at keeping the nation’s last nuclear plant open for five years after a planned shutdown in 2025, and it was suggested on Wednesday that the plant could operate for longer if needed.

The sun is usually the state’s largest source of energy during the day. But with hot weather coming, natural gas has outpaced renewables for longer over the past week, according to the California Independent System Operator, which is responsible for managing and maintaining reliability in the state’s power grid.

Gas has been the primary source of energy all day Tuesday – the expected peak of extreme temperatures.

Meanwhile, on Monday the state for the first time turned on four gas-fired generators to add more supply, enough to power 120,000 homes. It also planned to rely on some diesel generators as well.

But some state fossil fuel stations have reliability issues of their own. Several power plants, including older gas-fired plants along the California coast, have been partially out of order or are producing less power than planned, according to ISO.

Four of the plants, which absorb ocean water to cool their equipment, were due to close in 2020, but the state has continued to extend their life to help stabilize energy supplies. They now plan to stay open until at least 2023, but could go on for much longer Under the legislation, Newsom signed in June.

If the country is to keep its old gas-fired coastal stations online beyond 2023, Siva Gunda, vice chairman of the board of directors, said it needs to give the companies that own it more certainty about the future so they can decide whether to spend the money. for its maintenance. California Energy Commission, state energy planning agency.

“Everything must be pushed forward at full speed” with the “ambitious goal” of clean energy sources making up most of the country’s energy reserves, he said.

He said the intensity of the heat wave only underscores California’s need to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

The network’s challenges also provided plenty of fodder for Newsom’s political critics, who argued that Democrats’ policies to move away from oil and gas add nothing.

The state recently adopted new regulations that aim to end the sale of most new gas-powered cars in the state by 2035. But during the heat wave, officials have also urged people not to charge cars or use other large appliances at night. The state has not banned car charging, but has urged people to do so during the day.

“Gavin Newsom – You have to buy an electric car.” Republican Senator Melissa Melendez tweeted Tuesday night after the state sent out an emergency radio alert urging people to reduce energy use.

Environmental groups say the planning failure has pushed California to rely on natural gas — and even ramp up its use — during the heat wave. Ari Eisenstadt, director of Regenerate California, a campaign to end fossil fuel use in the state, said the state needs to set clearer goals and benchmarks to achieve its clean energy goals and ensure that fossil fuels are not used as a backup.

“People have been talking about natural gas as a bridge for decades,” he said. “If it was really a bridge, we would have crossed it by now.”


Associated Press journalist Michael R. Blood contributed reporting from Beverly Hills, California.

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