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New power lines could end California's reliance on Aliso Canyon gas

Jul 11, 2023

In summary

California continues to rely on Aliso Canyon’s natural gas to stabilize the power grid. Utility regulators should instead be looking to transmission line projects that link Southern California to planned solar and wind farms, helping reduce the state’s dependence on gas.

Guest Commentary written by

V. John White is the executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technology

Southern California has a gas addiction.

Instead of phasing out gas plants, state agencies have expanded their use. And on Thursday, the Public Utilities Commission could (once again) vote on a proposal to increase storage to 100% capacity at Aliso Canyon, the site of the nation’s largest gas leak that displaced thousands.

These actions will fuel climate change, endanger thousands of nearby residents and worsen air quality. But if California acts quickly, we can break the cycle of gas addiction and stop expanding the use of fossil fuels that are warming the planet and sickening people. In a recent report, the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technology examined how the state can power down gas by powering up clean power lines.

Large amounts of clean energy are being developed to the north in the Central Valley and to the east in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, as well as in Southern Nevada. All we need is the infrastructure to import all of this clean power to the greater Los Angeles area where it’s needed. But clean energy transmission takes time to build, and that means we don’t have time to waste.

The California Independent System Operator, or CAISO, has an ambitious plan for building out power lines, identifying three alternative ways to expand the regional grid.

All three include installing a high-voltage, direct current, subsea cable that would start near the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in San Luis Obispo County and land near the El Segundo and Scattergood power plants near LAX where a converter station would be built. To minimize the need for gas-fired generation across the region, other high-voltage transmission lines would be needed from the south through Imperial and San Diego counties or from the east through Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Building these projects may not be easy, but it can be done. Fifteen years ago, San Francisco faced a similar challenge as they sought to eliminate two gas plants in low-income neighborhoods of the city. The solution was to build a high-voltage direct current cable under the San Francisco Bay from Pittsburgh in the east to an industrial area near the Giants baseball stadium. This new transmission line, Trans Bay Cable, greatly improved electric system reliability for San Francisco by allowing two-way power flows into the city’s distribution system.

More importantly, it also enabled the closure of two old gas-fired power plants.

If a subsea transmission line can be built in the Bay Area, the same can be done in Southern California. Right now the region only has one major north-south power pathway from the Central Valley to Southern California.

Building a new high-voltage direct current power line from the north to Los Angeles will reduce the risk of power disruptions while expanding access to clean energy from planned offshore wind projects along the Central Coast as well as new solar projects being developed in the lower Central Valley. And long term, it will substantially reduce the need for dangerous gas infrastructure.

The CPUC can jumpstart this effort by voting against the Aliso Canyon gas storage proposal. CAISO and the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water can follow by including the proposed Pacific Transmission Expansion project in both of their transmission plans.

If California focuses on building out clean transmission instead of powering up dirty gas infrastructure, we can deliver cleaner air and much-needed renewable energy to Southern California while reducing the risk of fossil fuel disasters. If CAISO and LADWP work quickly, this new subsea cable could become operational before 2035, ensuring the next generation grows up powering their lives with clean electricity instead of gas from Aliso Canyon.

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