Drought Threatens to Close California Hydropower Plant for First Time
A California power plant likely will shut down for the first time ever because of low water during a prolonged drought, squeezing the state’s very tight electricity supplies, state officials said yesterday.
The Edward Hyatt power plant, an underground facility next to Oroville Dam in Butte County, is expected to close in August or September, said John Yarbrough, California Department of Water Resources assistant deputy director of the State Water Project. The plant has run continuously since opening in 1967. It receives water from Lake Oroville, and that reservoir has dropped because of the drought, as CNN previously reported.
Lake Oroville is among several California reservoirs hit by drought.
In addition, “high heat events in California and the rest of the West have begun earlier than usual and have exceeded historic temperature levels,” the California Energy Commission and California Public Utilities Commission leaders said in a July 1 letter to the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), the grid manager.
The state’s power system expects to lose about 1,000 megawatts of power generation as a result. While that’s a fraction of a system with daily peak demand of 44,000 MW, supplies already are tight, said Lindsay Buckley, a California Energy Commission spokesperson.
“Based on our May projections, we really didn’t have 1,000 megawatts to lose,” Buckley said in an interview. “So it’s something that we’re now grappling with” related to the state’s hydropower resources.
The Golden State’s drought is connected to warming and is one of the many ways climate change is hitting the state and its power supplies, according to climate scientists. California also is struggling with the impacts of wildfires and extreme heat. State officials anticipate that to keep the lights on this summer, they will rely in part on residents cutting back their power use during peak demand hours, roughly from 4 to 9 p.m. local time.
“The climate impacts are coming at us hard and fast,” Buckley said. “We need all hands on deck, and that includes everyday Californians and just helping to conserve during these times.”
Last weekend, California narrowly avoided rolling blackouts of electricity when smoke from the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, acting as an electrical conductor, shorted out power lines that feed the Bonneville Power Administration’s California-Oregon Intertie transmission network (Energywire, July 15). The grid lost an estimated 5,500 MW of power flows, the equivalent of about 10 large power plants.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued an executive order Saturday temporarily lifting some environmental restrictions on natural gas-fired power plants, one of several moves to free up power supplies. Newsom yesterday announced he was sending more firefighting resources to Oregon to help combat the Bootleg Fire and new fires.
The state’s grid operator said it was seeking to buy additional power capacity that would be available this summer.