As summer temperatures rise, Governor Gavin Newsom fears the type of power outages that could bring down a governor. His remedy – to extend the operation of the Diablo Canyon power plant beyond its scheduled decommissioning date of 2025 – is not aligned with California’s energy challenges.
Not only is 2025 three years too late for this summer, but more than 4,000 new megawatts of reliable electrical capacity have been added to the state’s power grid — the equivalent of two Diablo Canyons. Additionally, there are nearly a million fewer people in California today than expected by state energy planners.
Newsom found the wrong tool to allay fears of a repeat of the August 2020 power outages, when nearly 500,000 homes lost power for about 1.5 hours.
The nuclear plants supplying California with electricity were online during the energy crisis of the early 2000s and in 2020. They did not prevent outages.
In fact, Diablo Canyon has been identified as a major contributing factor to the 2020 outage. Federal and Western state regulations require the California network operator, known as the California Independent System Operator, to or CAISO, maintains reserve margins of 6% at all times. Diablo Canyon cannot be part of this reserve because it already produces energy. Nuclear power plants operate 24/7 all year round; for security reasons, they do not respond to sudden increases in demand or the loss of other power plants on the grid.
If Diablo fails, it could lead to “destabilizing the western grid”, according to the official report on the causes of the 2020 power outage. To maintain the reserve, the grid manager had called for rotating shutdowns. In effect, customer power outages were used to “back up” the nuclear power plant – the grid operator could not trust Diablo Canyon to keep running reliably for only an hour and a half.
As California’s largest power generator, Diablo Canyon is more of a liability than a source of supply in times of stress.
The main causes of most power outages are problems with transmission and distribution lines – a falling branch or a fried squirrel, for example. In California, customers are experiencing deliberate power outages to prevent faulty wires from starting wildfires. Even 100 nuclear power plants would not prevent these breakdowns.
Flaws in the independent grid operator’s energy market also played a role in the 2020 blackouts, just as they had 20 years earlier during California’s energy crisis.
Buried on page 113 of the final root cause analysis report, the grid operator admits that “power market practices contributed to the inability to obtain additional power that could have mitigated the tense conditions on the CAISO network on August 14 and 15”.
The report goes on to say that the independent system operator failed to correctly forecast demand for the next day, or schedule an adequate power supply. The grid operator authorized the export of thousands of megawatts of electricity from California when it was needed most.
This caused a rush for power supplies and the independent system operator called for a 1,000 megawatt outage on August 14 and a 500 megawatt outage on August 15.
Newsom, however, blamed the state’s shift to renewable resources as the cause of the supply shortage; the governor was the only state official to make this claim. “Officials have consistently said that intermittent power sources such as solar panels and wind turbines were not causing blackouts,” according to the Los Angeles Times,
According to Rao Konidena, an independent energy consultant, renewable energy does not cause blackouts. Stakeholders say the issue is more complicated.
However, Newsom and a new generation of nuclear power peddlers, including former gubernatorial candidate Michael Shellenberger and Jessica Lovering, executive director of a pro-nuclear think tank, are weaponizing blackouts to justify keeping them going. of Diablo Canyon open.
As they plan for the future, Newsom and pro-nuclear pushers should stop promoting Diablo Canyon as California’s energy savior, recognize what really caused the August 2020 power shortages, and understand the real solutions.
Robert Freehling is an independent energy consultant which focuses on national and local clean energy policies. CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California politics and politics.
This story was originally published July 6, 2022 06:00.