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California utility SCE awards 770MW of battery contracts to help replace ageing natural gas plants

A hybrid project announced in 2017, combining battery energy storage with gas turbines by GE, in SCE’s service area, thought to be a world first. Image: SCE / GE.

Contracts have been awarded to 770MW of battery energy storage project proposals by Southern California Edison (SCE), one of the US state of California’s three major investor-owned utilities (IOUs).

The projects will help solve reliability issues anticipated to impact on the California grid when a number of ageing natural gas power plants reach their retirement, as well as helping to integrate larger shares of renewable energy that in turn will help replace those gas plants. The gas plants include once-through cooling facilities which use coastal seawater and return it after cooling power plants at a much higher temperature than surrounding water, which means the power plants present additional challenges environmentally as well as the association emissions and air pollution concerns.

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While around 3GW of natural gas plants scheduled for retirement by the end of this year have been given extensions of between a year and three years to that deadline, the regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), determined that 3,300MW of “system-level resource adequacy capacity” needs to start coming online incrementally. At least 50% – including the seven just-announced projects – must be online by the beginning of August 2021, 75% by August 2022 and 100% by the following August, the CPUC said in a rulemaking decision published in December 2019. Load-serving entities, including SCE and other investor-owned utilities (IOUs) will be responsible for bringing them online.

SCE emailed to reveal the winning projects and developers / bidders as seen in the table below. The largest is the 230MW McCoy project for developer NextEra Energy Resources, the smallest the 50MW Sanborn project by TerraGen Power. Contract lengths range from 10 to 20 years, though the majority are 15 years.

An SCE media representative said that most of the projects are co-located with existing solar generation, making this announcement “good news both on the system reliability front but also on the renewables integration front”.

“This is definitely movement on our way to reaching our state’s clean energy goals and the need to be able to integrate ever increasing amounts of renewables,” the SCE spokesman said.

“These new clean energy projects will definitely serve our customers well and help with the need to replace old retiring generation without additional emissions.”

Selected bidder Project name Location Contract term in years Contracted capacity in megawatts (MW)
Southern Power Garland Rosamond, Kern County, California 20 88
Southern Power Tranquility Tranquility, Fresno County, California 20 72
TerraGen Power Sanborn Mojave, Kern County, California 10 50
NextEra Energy Resources Blythe 2 Blythe, Riverside County, California 15 115
NextEra Energy Resources Blythe 3 Blythe, Riverside County, California 15 115
NextEra Energy Resources McCoy Blythe, Riverside County, California 15 230
LS Power Gateway 1-2 San Diego, San Diego County, California 15 100

The projects, which came through a competitive bidding process, still require approval by the CPUC and are to be submitted to the regulator later this month. SCE energy procurement and management VP William Walsh said they demonstrate the utility's “support of California’s goal to green the state and also encourages clean energy projects of all types, creating jobs and strengthening our economy”. In November, SCE also issued a roadmap white paper, Pathway 2045, which it said is an examination of the changes that will need to be made to the energy system to support state goals of carbon neutrality by 2045. 

Elsewhere in California, an intent to procure 2,000,000MWh of solar and wind energy was announced just before the end of April by two community choice aggregators (CCAs), Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP) and Silicon Valley Clean Energy.

The CCAs, which are independent non-profit power utility organisations within the service area of IOU Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), have a shared goal of going carbon-free. The pair recently announced a power purchase agreement (PPA) deal to offtake power from a solar-plus-storage plant under development by First Solar.

The latest Request for Proposals (RFP) includes a stipulation that bidders are “highly encouraged” to add energy storage to their proposed projects, with a deadline to submit proposals in mid-June. The CCAs will hold a webinar meeting on the RFP for bidders on the 12 May. See more details on the MBCP website here

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