DOE Issues Emergency Order to Alleviate California Power Crisis
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on Sept. 6 took the rare but drastic action of issuing an emergency order under the Federal Power Act (FPA) to authorize the maximum operation of three natural gas–fired facilities on the California Independent System Operator’s (CAISO’s) grid whose full capability had been stranded by federal air quality and other permits.
The seven-day Section 202(c) emergency order signed by U.S. Assistant Secretary for Electricity Bruce Walker at around 2 p.m. PST on Sunday responded to an urgent request by CAISO made public just three hours before. It allows Units 1–5 at Walnut Creek Energy Park in the City of Industry, Units 5/6 and 7/8 at the El Segundo Energy Center in El Segundo, and Units 1–4 at the Long Beach Generating Station in Long Beach to produce their maximum capacity, which could increase the combined output from the units by as much as an additional 100 MW, to help the embattled grid operator maintain regional reliability.
CAISO said it directed all generators in its balancing authority area to “produce their maximum capability”—including allowing some to generate more than their interconnection capacity—during certain times of the day as historic heat storms raged on statewide. But the three gas generators, all which operate as peakers, informed CAISO they could not follow the directive without exceeding National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) or other permit limitations. These limitations involve “both permit limitations under federal law for nitrogen oxide emissions and ammonia releases as well as a limitations regarding fuel and ammonia throughput,” CAISO said.
CAISO estimated the federal air quality and permit limitations had “stranded” about 20 MW to 40 MW at El Segundo Energy Center; 15 MW to 25 MW at Walnut Creek Energy Park; and 36 MW at Long Beach Generating Station. NRG Energy completed the El Segundo Units 5–8 in 2013, but it packaged the units in a spinoff of NRG Yield, which became Clearway Energy in 2018. The El Segundo units are located near Los Angeles International Airport and have a total output of 536 MW. Walnut Creek Energy Park is a 500-MW simple cycle peaking facility in Los Angeles County that NRG completed in 2012, but it has also become part of Clearway Energy. The 252-MW Long Beach Generation Station in Long Beach, just south of Los Angeles, is still owned by NRG Energy.
In its urgent request to the DOE, the CAISO noted it “does not lightly request the authorization it seeks here. It understands the importance of the environmental permit limits that are at issue.” It added: “However, in the CAISO’s judgment, the loss of power to homes and local businesses in the areas affected by curtailments present a greater risk to public health and safety than the limited departures from those permit limits the CAISO requests here.”
Another Heat Wave, Raging Wildfires Intensify California’s Power Crisis
California is battling another extreme heat wave that sent temperatures surging to 121F in Los Angeles County on Sunday, but it is also struggling to contain two dozen wildfires across the state (Figure 1). California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a proclamation of a state emergency on Sept. 3, which suspended state and local permitting requirements for power generators during peak demand hours (between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. PST). However, the state proclamation did not suspend permitting requirements that arise from federal law, CAISO noted on Sunday.