Thursday, September 6, 2018

wishing winds: California's SB 100

I wanted to tie together some articles of interest I've read in a single post - but I instead I'll deliver two blog posts and spare myself the effort of convincing the reader of the connections between:
For those not closely following the electricity scene, Stop These Things and VOX are dissimilar in the extreme. Those that are following are likely lined up with one or the other may have already abandoned reading this post - but don't worry VOX followers, this one only deals with California.
SB 100, the bill sponsored by state Sen. Kevin de León, would set a target of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. It passed the California Senate last year, passed the state Assembly on Tuesday, and was reconciled by the Senate on Thursday...
...there’s enormous power and symbolism in “100 percent.”
But it’s also important to understand that SB 100 is not some big leap for California...California’s transition to clean energy has been careful and deliberate.
SB 100 is a big deal, in my opinion, specifically because 2045 is not far away in planning electricity generation - and therefore it won't be just another symbolic step. According the Energy Information Administration (EIA), "The capacity-weighted average age of U.S. natural gas power plants is 22 years, which is less than hydro (64 years), coal (39), and nuclear (36)." A building boom in natural gas power plants for 6 years at the start of the century drops that average age to 22 years, otherwise it would similarly show 2045 would be early years for a traditional power plant just being planned today. SB 100 is not binding, but I think it clearly increases the risk for any investor that would plan a generating source with significant greenhouse gas emissions in that state.

Roberts alludes to a possibility the bill won't be signed into law; "Gov. Brown is threatening to veto SB 100 if legislators don’t also pass AB 813, a bill that would set California on the path to joining a larger regional Western power market." He doesn't take the possibility seriously, perhaps because of his belief that, "in what is effectively a climate Dark Ages in the US, California is carrying a torch."

I'm in Ontario - if Americans are looking for a torch, they should look up here.

There are many ways emissions from electricity are reported by a jurisdiction. California reports them internally in a way that creatively accounts for the substantial imports - unlike the simple calculations I used to create the above graphic with data from 2 annual EIA data files and Canada's greenhouse gas inventory reporting. The progress in California Roberts describes as "careful and deliberate" didn't result in emissions being meaningfully reduced between 2005 and 2015.

Growth from "renewables" in the last 5 years is only a solar story. California led the United States in wind generation for most of the 1990's, then Texas surpassed it, then Iowa, and Oklahoma, and Kansas. By 2016 California was in the middle of the pack (17th) in terms of share of internal electricity generation produced by industrial wind turbines.

California has a tendency to claim emissions reductions from imported electricity. I don't want to revisit all I've written (mostly tweeted) on why it is suspect, but here will simply concentrate on the changes since 2009 as reported by the California energy Commission.[1] I've kept the units of the Y-axis the same to make the comparison between in-state and imports obvious - but to be absolutely clear the local solar trend doesn't extend to imports.

It is also notable that California Energy Commission claims more electricity generated by industrial wind turbines comes from imports than within the state. Paraphrasing Sartre, for Californians, like Torontonians, wind is other people.[2]

I am unsure of the how large hydro fits into the 60% of electricity from renewables target for 2030, but a couple of aspects are relevant regardless. Hydro varies enormously from one year to another in California simply due to the availability of water. From 2015 to 2017 large hydro went from 5.4% of supply to 14.7% as in-state generation more than tripled. Imports have risen slower and this is presumably as it includes only contracted supply. Concerns with counting increased contracted "clean" energy from elsewhere as emission cuts in California are demonstrated by Catherine Wolfram in discussing a California "clean" retailer; "About half of its current energy procurement (2018-19) comes from large hydro. Keep in mind that the last large hydro plant built in the Western US went into service in 1966."

It's unclear how much of the other imported electricity is simply reshuffling existing supply, but assuming it's zero and trusting the California Energy Commission figures, renewables (excluding large hydro) were 29% of supply in 2017, up over 50% from 2013-2017. It's easy to see the exuberance in upping the goals for 2030, but 82% of that increase was due to solar - a variable renewable energy source (vRES) which produces about 80% of its annual output in around 20% of all hours. The exciting growth in California solar isn't unique, nor will the coming slowdown be.
This is Figure 2 in Varun Sivaram's A Tale of Two Technologies
It's not apparent California will return to biomass or geothermal (long stagnant). Germany returned to wind after it's solar growth spurt, which looks unlikely on land in California, and less affordable offshore - although that is where Mark Jacobson thinks they should look. But even if they do build out wind and solar the production profiles mean increasing grid connections with other jurisdictions would alleviate costs in allowing exports at times of excess generation, and imports when needed.

Gerry Brown may not have grounds to veto the bill, but he was on sound footing in tying it to expanding the market, and without increasing connections, given the recent success is due almost entirely to solar, the 60% renewables target for 2030 would be likely to expensively fail. 


1. In 2009 the Commission's reporting introduced an "Unspecified Sources of Power" category, and it was over half of the total. This was likely due to cap and trade rules that rewarded California entities for selling ownership positions, and contracts with, coal-fired generators (in particular) outside the state. Electricity purchased on the market was considered gas-fired, allowing for great reductions in perceived emissions, if only on paper.

2. The only two large industrial wind turbines within 70 km of Toronto's city centre is a mock turbine that may no longer be even occassionally operational, and a single unit on the site of the Pickering Nuclear Generating station.

xlsx with graphics

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