Answer to California’s San Onofre nuclear power plant closure could be clean energy

320px-Giant_photovoltaic_array[1]California now has less of an energy supply … or does it? I ask because the San Onofre nuclear power plant, located in northwest San Diego County, is no longer producing electricity – it is offline and it is to remain that way. Even so, this in no way means demand for electricity in state is less. So, with this understanding, how will Californians’ energy needs get met? The quick answer: from power generating stations located elsewhere.

Since San Onofre supplied enough electricity to power 1.4 million homes, according to published information in The Fresno Bee editorial “San Onofre closure will test state’s power grid,” and since over 15 percent of the state’s electricity supply came courtesy of San Onofre and Diablo Canyon – the latter now the one remaining nuclear power generating facility in state, other generators, obviously, will have to pick up the slack. In a state where sustained summer temps over 100 degrees are not uncommon in many places, the power grid will have its work cut out.

On the Natural Resources Defense Council Switchboard Blog on April 19, 2011 in “A Golden Future for the Renewable State,” NRDC Senior Scientist Peter Miller wrote: “While Congress stalls on America’s clean energy future, California is already making renewable energy the resource with which we’ll power our way to the future. Just last month, the California Legislature passed the 33 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard with broad bipartisan majorities. This legislation increases the share of renewable energy supplied by electricity providers to 33 percent by 2020.”

Added Miller, “Under Senator Joe Simitian’s 33 percent [Renewable Portfolio Standard] bill, electricity providers are required to obtain one-third of their electricity from renewable resources, including solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, and small hydroelectric plants. And we’re well on our way to meeting the 33 percent goal. The California Independent System Operator has already approved enough transmission to get us to 33 percent. Utilities [Pacific Gas & Electric], Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas&Electric have signed power purchase agreements for more than 20,000 [megawatts] to reach that goal. And last year, the California Energy Commission approved almost 4,200 [megawatts] of new solar thermal capacity in the state.”

I have every confidence, in the meantime, that our summer electricity demand will be met.

At the same time, I do not believe the question is really about whether or not demand will be met as much as it is about what the cost to users of the electricity now coming from other sources will be. Though the sooner more renewables can be brought online, in my opinion, the better.

Having said that, a commenter to The Fresno Bee editorial in question wrote: “So, with San O[nofre] permanently off line the only reliable source, especially in drought years like this one, of replacement overnight power for pump back operations is gas fired power plants which contribute to our Valley’s air pollution problems,” the commenter’s concluding statement being, “California’s already precarious power situation is probably going to get worse before it gets better.”

I’m sure we Californians will have a much better idea once the Golden State’s hot summertime heat sets in.

Somewhat related, so far this year in the San Joaquin Valley, Exceedance Days of the National 8-hour ozone health standard total 23 compared to last year’s 17 for the same time period. If I had to choose between 17 or 23, I’d rather it be 17. In the South Coast Air Basin, meanwhile, it is 26 this year compared to last year’s 27. A little better scenario in the south state but, ideally, though, there should be no exceedance days at all.

Image above: United States Air Force

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