The bitter cold that's locked down much of the United States is having an effect even in relatively warm California: demand for natural gas for heating and extra power back east is cutting supplies to Southern California gas-fired power plants. That's prompted the state's grid operator to ask us all to cut down on the power we use.
In other words, the California Independent System Operator Corporation is issuing a statewide Flex Alert for Thursday, February 6, lasting until 10:00 p.m.
"While the natural gas shortage is only impacting Southern California power plants," says CaISO in its announcement Thursday, "statewide electricity and gas conservation will help free up both electricity and gas supplies for Southern Californians. Customers in both Southern and Northern California are asked to reduce their energy use between 1:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m."
An incident of deliberate damage to a Pacific Gas and Electric substation we reported on last April may have been more than vandalism, according to a report published Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal.
In the April 16 incident, phone lines to the Metcalf transmission substation south of San Jose were cut just before snipers shot out 17 large transformers, prompting a Flex Alert that covered much of the south San Francisco Bay Area. Though PG&E still describes the act as vandalism, it was such a methodical assault that the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission called it an act of terrorism.
Though the attack didn't result in blackouts, it took 27 days to bring the substation all the way back online. No one has been arrested in relation to the attack, and the FBI isn't treating it as a terrorist act. But former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff fears that the Metcalf assault may have been a dry run for a larger attack in the works.
On Friday, ReWire reported on a confusing contradiction concerning the world's largest concentrating solar project in the Mojave Desert. Though press reports indicated the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System went online, figures from the state's grid operator showed that California'a solar thermal power plants generated almost no power during the month of January.
Today, we can report that documents from the California Independent System Operator (CaISO,) which runs most of the state's grid, may shed some light on the apparent discrepancy. While the Ivanpah Project was indeed scheduled to go online on December 30, the project spent the entire month of January with at least one of its units going through unplanned downtime every single day.
To sum up daily reports on the state's power plants' operational status filed by CaISO, the Ivanpah project essentially went from planned to unplanned outage status rather than going online.
News reports are saying that the world's largest concentrating solar facility went online in California's desert at the beginning of the month. But figures from the state's grid operator suggest that solar thermal power production in California actually cratered for most of the month.
According to a piece by reporter David Danelski on the website of the Riverside Press-Enterprise, the 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System near the Mojave National Preserve went online at the beginning of January, starting to feed solar thermal power to California's grid.
Agency documents cited by Danelski do indeed reflect a startup date of December 30, 2013 for the project. But figures from the California Independent System Operator (CaISO), which operates the power grid for most of California, suggest that rather than having an immediate boost in energy entering the state's grid, production by California's concentrating solar thermal power plants actually fell nearly to nothing for most of the month.
This is well outside California, but it may well have ramifications in the Golden State: A lawsuit threatened by a pair of bird conservation groups has halted a wind power development the federal government had planned along the Lake Erie shore in Ohio.
The project, on the Camp Perry Air National Guard Station just east of Toledo, had already been reduced in size due to pressure from bird protection groups. The military base occupies a stretch of lakeshore that's been identified as one of the most crucial bird migration corridors in the northeast, if not North America.
But the Air National Guard's downsized plan still included a 600-kilowatt wind turbine on the base. That, according to wildlife activists and state and federal agencies, posed an unacceptable risk to migrating birds including the federally Endangered Kirtland's warbler. The national group American Bird Conservancy (ABC), and the Ohio-based Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) threatened to sue to block the project January 8: the Air National Guard yanked the project in response on Tuesday.
As California anxiously awaits the rains that we hope will blunt the worst drought in the state's recorded history, people are again looking to a water source that's been discussed for decades: the Pacific Ocean. But turning seawater into something we can drink and irrigate crops with takes a lot of energy.
Unsurprisingly, some are suggesting that we turn to free energy from the sun to desalinate seawater. It makes sense on the face of it: all the naturally occurring freshwater on the planet has been desalinated by solar energy, as water vapor evaporates from the ocean and falls as salt-free rain.
With the drought declaration driving attention to California's water woes, people are asking whether we can use renewable energy to de-salt seawater on purpose. And we probably can, but there's a pesky problem that few seem to be discussing.