California regulators emphasize solar, batteries in utility planning framework

For decades California has been a leader in the transition to renewable energy, and the conclusion of the state’s first statewide Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) reinforces this trend, with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) providing detailed guidance to the state’s utilities and community choice aggregators (CCAs) in terms of meeting state greenhouse gas reduction goals.

In a decision last week which was published yesterday, CPUC adopted a target for the electric sector to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 50% from 2015 levels by 2030. Additionally, the agency adopted a reference system for utility and CCA plans which calls for an additional 9 GW of solar, 2 GW of battery storage, 1.1 GW of wind and 200 MW of geothermal as the optimal resource portfolio.

It is important to note that this 2 GW of battery storage is in addition to the 1,325 MW currently mandated by CPUC, however the agency notes that the need for some of this could be displaced by certain types of advanced demand response and/or pumped storage.

While setting this model portfolio of renewable energy, CPUC not only noted that the state does not need additional fossil-fuel fired plants, but essentially moves the burden of proof to the utilities. The February 8 ruling requires that any utility proposing to either contract with a new gas plant larger than 20 MW or renew a contract with an existing one for five years or more must prove that this need could not be met with another “lower- or zero-emitting resource”.

This move follows on an increasing rejection of natural gas infrastructure by California regulators in favor of clean energy alternatives, as the state continues to burn less and less gas every year in its electricity sector.

However, advocates were disappointed with the decision by CPUC to not being a process to require procurement from utilities. Vote Solar has argued that the utilities should be continuously procuring new renewable energy resources, warning that putting off procurement can lead to a boom/bust cycle.

One relevant factor here is that California continues to import a large portion of its power, a situation which could worsen once the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant closes, which is scheduled for 2025.

“With the looming closure of California’s last nuclear power plant, the need for GHG-free energy sources can’t wait until the end of next decade to meet a 2030 target,” notes Vote Solar in a blog post.

Vote Solar says that it is looking for ways to correct the delay in implementation. The organization also notes that there is still a need to develop better modeling tools to compare distributed energy resources with utility-scale solar and wind for a more optimal mix, and Vote Solar says it will be working with CPUC to develop a common resource valuation methodology.

Finally, Vote Solar has called for more analysis of the state’s natural gas fleet, arguing that more gas plants need to close to make room for renewables and reduce electricity costs. This follows on the release of a new paper by three scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) which explores the issue of minimum requirements for conventional generation in California and Texas and how this causes curtailment of renewable energy.