U.S. grants California request to lean on gas plants to keep lights on

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The Biden administration on Friday issued an emergency order allowing some California natural gas power plants to operate without pollution restrictions to shore up the state’s tight electricity supplies, the U.S. Department of Energy said.

California’s grid operator, the Independent System Operator, had sought the order in a letter earlier this week to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, saying it needed additional power supplies to be able to keep the lights on during extreme heat events.

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The request was the state’s latest move to shore up its electricity grid as a fierce drought has slashed hydroelectric power capacity and wildfires threaten transmission lines that bring in power from neighboring states.

The order, which the agency posted online, allows six gas-fired power plants throughout the state to run at maximum output for 60 days, until Nov. 9. It is meant to provide an additional 200 megawatts to the state’s power grid, or enough power for about 150,000 households.

California has been forced to lean on fossil fuels to maintain grid reliability as its environmental policies are requiring larger amounts of wind and solar energy that only run when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

This year already Governor Gavin Newsom has loosened restrictions on diesel generators and engines, while the state’s water agency is adding gas-fired power plants to boost supplies. (Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Chris Reese and Daniel Wallis)