Op-Ed: California’s giant new batteries kept the lights on during the heat wave
Electricity prices have been going up over the past few months, but the cost of electricity from the massive new California power plants has barely budged, even as the weather has been unusually hot.
That’s because the plants are running at near maximum capacity. The result is that the state’s big new facilities have kept the lights on longer, according to the company building them.
The extra power has been a boon to the state’s power grid. But some consumer advocates and consumer groups accuse state regulators and others of holding the line against the plants’ continued expansion, and they question whether state regulators acted too slowly as the industry grew.
“This has been a long battle, and they’ve been in a lot of battles against big power companies,” said Mike Litterst, director of the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There were a lot of delays and a lot of missed opportunities.”
The fight, in many ways, has been a continuation of a struggle that began nearly two decades ago when utilities first proposed building large new power plants, and California regulators first approved their construction.
But the stakes for the future of California’s energy policy are significantly higher in the age of climate change. One plant is already generating electricity on all seven days during which the state’s heat waves are expected to hit the hottest temperatures on record, according to a forecast from the University of Colorado.
The state’s five other new coal-fired power plants are also expected to hit that number or higher by the middle of this century (Climate Central has updated this projection).
California’s renewable-energy targets have increased the power of wind and solar, but the state’s coal-fired plants are one area where environmental concerns loom large.
And as the state’s climate goals have gotten more ambitious, state regulators have begun to raise concerns about the risks in the plants’ proposed expansion.
Since 2006, the state has passed several laws and regulations intended to shrink greenhouse gas emissions.
But the result has been one of California’s largest energy crises, when regulators imposed a series of restrictions on plant expansion that were designed to balance the state’s electricity production with