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Mirrors produce heat shimmers at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, producing a gross capacity of 392 megawatts in the Mojave Desert. Photo by Trek and Shoot
Mirrors produce heat shimmers at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, producing a gross capacity of 392 megawatts in the Mojave Desert. Photo by Trek and Shoot
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California energy experts warn of potential energy shortage, blackouts

REGION — California is preparing for a hot summer, which means the real possibility of energy scarcity, rate increases and blackouts.

Earlier this month, a number of state agencies and elected officials, including the California Public Utilities Commission, California Independent Operator System, California Energy Commission and Gov. Gavin Newsom, warned of a possible energy shortage this summer if the Golden State’s electrical grid is overwhelmed by wildfires, heatwaves and other extreme weather events.

A potential capacity shortfall of between 1,700 and 5,000 megawatts (MW) could impact between 1 million to 4 million California residents, according to a May 6 Reuters story.

Additionally, electricity rates are expected to increase between 4% to 9%, with an estimated capacity shortfall of 1,800 MW by 2025.

The news was preceded by an announcement from Newsom about reconsidering decommissioning Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in 2025 despite protests from environmental groups. Diablo is also the state’s largest source of carbon-free energy generation, according to experts.

Diablo provides a reliable, base load energy source for California, producing roughly 6% of the state’s energy. On May 18, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a deadline extension for its Civil Nuclear Credit program to allow nuclear plants more time to apply for federal funds to remain open, according to KEYT-TV in Santa Barbara.

“Demand and supply estimates didn’t account for accelerated effects of climate change,” said Alice Reynolds, president of the CPUC, at a press briefing in early May. “Climate change impacts are really outpacing all of the predictions that we’ve made. Extreme weather and fire can reduce our ability to generate an increased demand.”

At the national level, retiring gas plants and a lack of hydro power is adding to the challenge of generating electricity, said Mark Rothleder, chief operating officer of the California Independent Operator System. The retiring plants and less-than-normal hydroelectric energy production account for a decrease of at least 6,000 MW.

Amidst these factors, the U.S. Commerce Department is currently conducting a tariffs probe into the country’s solar panels and related parts imported by China. The investigation, as reported by the New York Times, centers on whether Chinese companies are “circumventing U.S. tariffs by moving solar components through other Southeastern Asian countries.”

Since the investigation, more than 300 solar projects have been delayed or canceled, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The report also notes that since China controls most of the solar panel supply chain, the investigation has delayed solar projects in California.

Rothleder, meanwhile, said the greatest area of concern is between 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. when solar is ramping out of generation and demand is rising. The modeling, he said, showed generation is coming up 1,800MW short, so Reynolds said the CPUC and others are asking large-scale users to use less electricity.

“The reason this is the load is still relatively high, is we still have some of the demand that was previously being served behind the meter solar and the temperatures are still high,” Rothleder said. “This is where the solar production is starting to ramp out.”