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A Perspective from the Road -- Public Power in California

Written by Patrick Welch, November 5, 2018

I've had the opportunity and pleasure to leave my desk behind in Sacramento and visit with many of our electric members. What's emerged is a portrait of converging features that contribute to, and shape, CMUA members' ability to provide affordable, reliable and sustainable power.

 

At MID Woodland 3 power plant with Senior Assistant GM Greg Salyer and Generation Manager Richard Smith.The legislative Fall Recess began this year at midnight on August 31, after nine months of hectic and fast-paced legislative activity in Sacramento. This time period is an opportunity for legislators to campaign and spend time in their districts attending community events. For legislative staff and advocates in Sacramento, the Fall Recess is a change of pace and an opportunity to think critically about key issues, gain deeper knowledge and new insights, and build new and better relationships with key partners (or foes). It's often the case that groups with the most “sway” and political influence win the most legislative battles and skirmishes, but superior knowledge is also a powerful tool and those who have a better understanding of the issues can often carry the day.

An association of like-minded public power and water agencies, CMUA's members hold the keys to unlocking novel insights about power markets and electric grids, moving water across the state, analyzing customer data and more. The Fall Recess is an excellent opportunity to tap into this knowledge, and during the past month I've had the opportunity and pleasure to leave my desk behind in Sacramento and visit with many of our electric members. What's emerged is a portrait of converging features that contribute to, and shape, CMUA members' ability to provide affordable, reliable and sustainable power.

Based on geography, climate and governance, CMUA's members all have unique attributes that inform their decisions and perspectives. For example, the Truckee Donner Public Utility District is not in a California balancing authority, but instead participates in NV Energy. The Moreno Valley Electric Utility, which began service in 2004, has mostly undergrounded distribution lines and according to local rules, must have rates in parity with Southern California Edison, which also serves parts of the city. The Imperial Irrigation District encompasses the Salton Sea, an area of the state in need of environmental remediation. These unique conditions shape operational decisions and policy preferences, and fortify the principle that local decision-makers know what will work best in their community.

The ability to generate power locally, particularly through natural gas power plants, is also critical. Pasadena Water and Power, for example, is transmission constrained -- one transmission line imports electricity into the city -- and when a transformer component failed it cut its import capacity in half. A replacement could not be installed for six weeks. During this time, the Glenarm Power Plant was operated to provide power to the city. LADWP similarly experienced a critical component failure at a receiving station and relied on the Scattergood Generating Station to produce power. Or take Modesto Irrigation District, which owns and operates three natural gas power plants. Due to the heat, their peak load more than doubles in summer months from 300 MW to over 700 MW, and Modesto's three power plants ensure that this dramatic increase in demand can be met reliably.

At IIDâ€â„¢s Battery Energy Storage System with Amy Mmagu, SCPPA State Government Affairs ManagerCMUA's electric members are also pursuing new and innovative projects to meet obligations, community expectations, and to prepare for a 21st century California. Riverside Public Utilities is looking into its first solar plus storage contract, while Pasadena Water & Power is installing dozens of new electric vehicle charging stations. The City of Colton has an ambitious public benefits program that recently won an award and the City of Banning is upgrading its distribution system with new recloser technology to enhance reliability.

Although diverse in size, location and governance, California's public power providers share the common goal of providing affordable, reliable and sustainable power. Working collectively we can marshal the tremendous knowledge at our disposal to promote policies in the State Capitol and at regulatory agencies that benefit public power and fend off ones that don't. Thank you to those who've hosted me, and I look forward to visiting others around the state.

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