U.S. Energy Department Approves California Emergency Grid Order

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(Bloomberg) — The U.S. Energy Department approved an emergency order that will allow the California grid operator to quickly connect additional natural-gas fired generators by relaxing air-pollution requirements in an effort to avoid blackouts as the state faces extreme weather. 

Th California Independent System Operator will be able to test and operate six new and existing units that can generate 200 megawatts at maximum capacity “notwithstanding air quality and other permit limitations,” according to the Energy Department order granted on Friday. The order is in effect until Nov. 9 and comes in response to Governor Gavin Newsom’s move to procure more power supply as scorching heat, drought conditions and wildfires threaten reliable grid operations.

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California’s electric grid has faced immense strain over recent years as the region undergoes a massive energy transition in the midst of multiple weather threats. A move away from fossil fuels means the state has tried to rely more on more intermittent wind and solar resources, but that’s proved to be unwieldy.

The state has been forced to use stop-gap measures to burn more natural gas to fill an energy gap, left in part by low hydropower generation because of the drought. Supplies are likely to stay tight until enough batteries and other technologies can come online to eliminate fossil fuels.  

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The California grid operator made similar air-pollution requests to the Energy Department a year earlier and during the Western energy crisis in 2000-2001. Texas received authorization in February when an extreme winter storm led to widespread blackouts. 

The latest order comes just as the worst of summer heat is expected to ease. That’s because some of the units were approved to be installed after Newsom’s July 30 emergency proclamation, California ISO spokeswoman Anne Gonzales said in an email late Thursday.

“The timing also is designed to get us through the remainder of summer and fire season thoughtfully and proactively instead of in real time during a crisis,” she said. 

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