Some Remarks on California’s SB350 Energy Bill


Michael Cain

Michael is a systems analyst, with a taste for obscure applied math. He's interested in energy supplies, the urban/rural divide, regional political differences in the US, and map-like things. Bicycling, and fencing (with swords, that is) act as stress relief.

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17 Responses

  1. Avatar J_A says:

    The fact that each state has its own dispatch arrangement and rules even though you have a common interconnected grid is another case where the “laboratories of democracy” get in the way of efficiently providing services, and, btw, creating massive loopholes by using the gaps between the different regulations, through with they capture rents that should belong to the end user.

    If something is one unified electrical grid, it should be run under common rules. The USA is one big country. It should have uniform rules for most day to day activities. Having fifty plus rule books is just to the advantage of those able to play one rule book against the other. This benefits neither the California nor the Utah end user.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

      Given the nature of the Western Interconnect, a set of federal rules might not be ideal, but the affected states most certainly should have some kind of compact amongst themselves regarding dispatch, etc.Report

      • Avatar J_A in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        The compact should be the floor, not the ceilingReport

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

          Admittedly I’m not well versed in dispatching rules, etc., but my concern would be to make sure the east coast (you know, home to the federal government) isn’t crafting rules that benefit the east coast at the expense of the western interconnect. So perhaps the feds could write rules that form the floor, but the member states of an interconnect would write the final rules on top of that floor.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    “The Mountain West is going to be somebody’s energy colony.”

    Damn straight.
    I’m waiting to see what happens with Yucca after Reid retires.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird says:

      Could be interesting. The decision to limit study areas to just Yucca Mountain was passed by Dems in 1987. Back just before Reid put the brakes on, the Senators from Nebraska discovered (ie, had pointed out to them) that the preferred route for much of the Midwestern and some of the Southern reactor fuel was to unload about 300 barges per year worth of stuff at Omaha to put on rail cars, then transport it the length of the state. The Wyoming Senators discovered that the preferred route ran within about a mile of their state capitol building. Suddenly, not so eager. Last year President Obama designated a national monument that blocks the proposed 320-mile rail line that would have bypassed Las Vegas. Absent that line, pretty much everything has to be routed through the middle of the LV metro area.Report

  3. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    So would this be how we get that “pave the Mojave with solar panels” thing that we keep hearing about? Because it does seem like a pretty straightforward way to get the job done.Report

  4. Avatar Lyle says:

    Actually I have seen proposals to put up solar farms east of the Rockies in NM and take the power back to the Four Corners area and then to Ca. Eastern NM land is measured in acres per cow is not particularly scenic etc. Of course this would make the duck curve problem for Ca far worse as the solar would cut out before peak demand in Ca. (the sun sets 1+ hours earlier in NM). But you could also put up wind. The borders of the 3 interconnects now result in not enough power lines from Eastern NM west to where power would be used.Report

  5. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    The part of it that feels weird to me is, California is effectively outsourcing all of its energy infrastructure to other states. LADWP owns 75% of this massive plant in Utah. Okay, I get that it has to be somewhere — but why did it have to be in Utah particularly? Don’t Utahns have power needs of their own? Isn’t there a lot of energy lost in transmission, moving that electricity hundreds of miles across the Mojave? And don’t we want those jobs? Seems to me that having generation closer to home makes a whole lot of sense.Report

    • Avatar J_A in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Without having any clue about the specific project we are talking about, good power plant locations are quite scarce (fuel transportation logistics, environmental constraints, “this is where the wind/water is”, etc.). In comparison, transmission is cheap and easy.

      If you find a good place, go for it. Then throw a transmission line on top.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to J_A says:

        Transmission line placement in the West is somewhat more constrained, given all of the federal land, a fair portion of it with designations that preclude construction. There are now designated utility corridors, although those don’t go everywhere useful. The best solar resources in Colorado are in the San Luis Valley, a poor area which could certainly use the investment. Unfortunately, the direct route to the Front Range markets isn’t available because of federal land. The San Luis resources will eventually be developed, but only after a different transmission project, being built for different reasons, is finished and provides an alternate route.Report

    • Avatar J_A in reply to Burt Likko says:


      “….but why did it have to be in Utah particularly? Don’t Utahns have power needs of their own?”

      Burt, I’ll let you into a trade secret. There are no purple and yellow electrons. The energy generated by this plant is mostly staying in Utah, freeing up energy generated somewhere else that is now going to Los Angeles.

      The rest is all contractualual price balancing. Los Angeles pays the real producer the cost of the UT plant, and the UT plant pays to/collects from the real provider the difference between the UT plant price and the provider’s price (*). If the LA utility finds a good generation spot in Maine it could theoretically do the same (except for the very weak interconnect between CA ans MN)

      (*) It’s way more complicated than that. There’s like scores of plants and offtakers involved, but this is the principle.Report

    • Air pollution and water, Burt. Southern California needed more base load electricity which, at the time, meant a thermal power plant. Post Three Mile Island and given natural gas prices at the time, that meant coal. No way a coal-fired plant met Southern California emissions standards. For efficiency, thermal plants need cooling water, and the nearest available water was in Utah, with the added advantages that Utah was already going to build a small power station and there was plenty of coal practically in the power plant’s back yard. LADWP made an offer no one could refuse, and it became a big power plant. A few years back an investment group made a semi-serious run at siting a new nuclear plant to produce electricity to sell into the lucrative Southern California market. The nearest available water — given all the peculiarities of western water law — was still in Utah, although a couple hundred miles farther east. One of the factors driving wind and solar PV in the West is that they don’t need cooling water.

      Transmission losses in a modern HVDC system are usually well below 1% per hundred miles, which is acceptable. Most losses in the power grids happen in the distribution network, which operates at much lower voltages.

      California’s making the right choice.Report