The Biden administration on Sept. 10 issued an emergency order allowing some California natural gas power plants to operate without pollution restrictions to shore up the state’s tight electricity supplies, the U.S. Department of Energy said.
California’s grid operator, the Independent System Operator, had sought the order in a letter earlier this week to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, saying it needed additional power supplies to be able to keep the lights on during extreme heat events.
It was the second year in a row California sought and received such an order from the federal government. Prior to last year, the state had not asked for such relief since 2000 when it suffered an electricity crisis tied to market manipulation by energy producers.
This year’s request was the state’s latest move to shore up its electricity grid as a fierce drought has slashed hydroelectric power capacity and wildfires threaten transmission lines that bring power from neighboring states.
The order, which the agency posted online, allows six gas-fired power plants throughout the state to run at maximum output for 60 days, until Nov. 9. It is meant to provide an additional 200 megawatts to the state’s power grid, or enough power for about 150,000 households.
The order, signed by Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk, “will meet the emergency and serve the public interest,” it said.
California has been forced to lean on fossil fuels to maintain grid reliability as its environmental policies are requiring larger amounts of wind and solar energy that only run when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.
This year already Governor Gavin Newsom has loosened restrictions on diesel generators and engines, while the state’s water agency is adding gas-fired power plants to boost supplies.
A spokesperson for the California Independent System Operator said the grid operator was reviewing the order.
A greater reliance on electricity means a greater reliance on natural gas, the dominant fuel source in power generation.
The move is the latest example of California's struggle to move away from fossil fuels like natural gas that contribute to climate change.
Analysts at S&P Global Platts said gas would likely take market share back from wind in coming months as demand for air conditioning rises this summer.