Several Southern California cities are gambling their future power needs on the development of sufficient alternative energy sources, such as wind power, solar power and power from IGCC power plants to meet their needs. Currently these sources are either too intermittent, too costly, or not well enough developed to meet their needs.
Anaheim, Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, Riverside, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power have told Intermountain Power Agency in Delta, Utah, that they would not be renewing their contracts for cheap, coal-fired power. They are instead going to seek cleanear alternative energy power sources by 2027, after their current contracts with the Utah company expire.
A new California law that effectively prohibits electricity purchases from conventional coal-fired power plants goes into effect January first and Intermountain had been pushing cities to renew their contracts ahead of that date in a move to circumvent the law, but these cities refused to budge. The law bans use of power from sources that generate more such gases than in-state natural gas plants.
Traditional coal-fired plants are the cheapest, most reliable source of power but emit tons of carbon dioxide skyward along with other harmful air pollutants. Annual CO2 emissions at the Intermountain plants total more than 16 million tons, according to an analysis by the conservation group Environmental Defense.
Intermountain's Searle said the Utah agency worked for three years on the renewals and now was looking at ways to modernize its plants to bring them into compliance with California's greenhouse-gas legislation, including burning biomass — which includes fast-growing trees and plants as well as waste products — instead of coal, or possible burial of carbon dioxide from IGCC plants. He warned that such measures "will be costly" to consumers.
Biomass conversion would cost about $300 million, he said, and carbon capture and sequestration technologies would cost billions. But Searle said the Utah plants were uniquely situated over a large salt dome that could be ideal as an underground storage site for the gas. The agency also extended its renewal offer for any sort of power from the plants until 2023. The previous deadline was next May. California utility officials hope that state legislators will allow them to renew the contracts if greenhouse gases are reduced.
Wind, solar and IGCC are the technologies that The Energy Blog has been reporting on for power generation since its inception. Without subsidies or regulations requiring their use they are still not cost effective. Wind power is close to that point and should be ready in time to meet these cities requirements. The same can be said for solar trough solar and IGCC plants with a little less certainty. PV solar or concentrating solar should be able to meet their need by that time, but they still require some development and probably will not be ready for the kind of mass production required for this project. The problem is they have to decide in the next five years what technology to use if they are going to get enough capacity installed in time.
The California cities have rights to 1,400 of the 1,900 MW of generating capacity of Intermountain and in fact are using more than that, not to consider the growth in demand that will occur over the next 21 years. That is a large amount of power compared to the alternative power that has been installed to date, with the largest of current wind or solar plants in the neighborhood of 100 MW and no commercial IGCC plants operating, let alone any with sequestration, although several without sequestration are well along in the planning stage. However it does seem to me, to be possible to meet their goals in that period, with, as a first approximation, perhaps 250-300 MW for wind and 250 MW for solar, assuming some energy storage could be implemented, and the remainder IGCC plants, without accounting for the 1.5 to 2% annual growth that would occur with business as usual. Any more renewable energy would cause problems due to intermittency and there may not be enough area to gain significant relief due to geographical seperation of the wind plants. Siting for the wind power plants will be especially difficult with current climate in California, pending any revision of siting proceedures. Conservation could easily replace the power needed to provide for growth, plus considerably more. Conservation should be easier to motivate since under any circumstance the cost of power will be higher than would occur due to inflation.