“… the retirement of baseload and dispatchable generation has outpaced replacement capacity with adequate characteristics needed to maintain system reliability…. California’s electric system was ultimately unable to maintain reliable operations for the first time in almost two decades.”

It should be front page news. Forced decarbonization of the power grid is causing severe operational and planning issues, adding costs each step of the way. Reliable, economical power generation capacity is getting sacked, and fickle, expensive resources are being substituted.

Government regulation and planning of the grid, under a plethora of state and federal laws, is causing worst-case events. Texas 2021 was foreshadowed by California 2020, where intermittent resources also weakened a once powerful grid.

Consider a new study by the policy arm of the Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), the National Regulatory Research Institute (NRRI). “The Intersection of Decarbonization Policy Goals and Resource Adequacy Needs: A California Case Study,” by Elliott Nethercutt and Chris Devon, reaches a conclusion that future studies of Blackouts and Brownouts (rolling blackouts) are sure to repeat: too much renewable energy, not enough baseload power.

Unfortunately, the study concludes with the old central planning cry: more and better analysis is needed to fine-tune supply to demand. But read between the lines–and question authority when it comes to decarbonizing the grid.

Study highlights follow (quotations all):


  • A growing number of states have instituted renewable portfolio standards (RPS) through policies and corresponding commission orders to reduce carbon emissions in the electricity sector.
  • No state has transformed its grid with more ambitious policies than California, which introduced its RPS in 2002, initially requiring 20 percent of retail electricity sales to be served by renewable resources within 15 years.
  • This program has been adjusted multiple times, most recently by Senate Bill 100 (SB100) in 2018, which increased the requirement for carbon-free generation from electric retail sales to 60 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2045.
  • The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is charged with implementing this RPS program and … responsible for ensuring that jurisdictional load-serving entities (LSEs) procure enough capacity to meet the commission’s resource adequacy program requirements.
  • These two objectives collided on August 14 and 15, 2020, when the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) called on utilities to initiate controlled rotating electricity outages on two occasions to maintain adequate reserves in the midst of a regional heat wave.
  • These two load-shedding events affected 491,600 and 321,000 customers, respectively. California’s electric system was ultimately unable to maintain reliable operations for the first time in almost two decades….
  • Significant loss-of-load events on the bulk power system often result from a combination of factors…. including: actual loads exceeding forecasts; significant variability in wind and solar output; reduced imports from neighboring states … and significant unit derates and forced outages.
  • California’s rapid and ongoing growth of intermittent resources like wind and solar has flourished, while baseload and dispatchable resources have declined.


  • … the three primary causal factors were related to resource planning targets that “have not kept pace” with the changing resource mix, leading to insufficient resources available to meet demand during the early evening hours.
  • The August events highlight the need for continued improvement to resource adequacy constructs, along with developing and implementing enhanced metrics to accurately assess an electric system that continues to be transformed by ambitious state decarbonization policies.
  • Today, the majority of the state’s solar resources are … located behind-the-meter on customer rooftops…. output rapidly declines after the sun sets, creating a steep ramp in demand that must be served by other resources on the CAISO system.
  • Former FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFluer recognized this problem: “In the past three years, California has closed 5,000 MW of gas generation in anticipation of building 3,000 MW of battery storage that is still on the drawing board. In a heat wave, when every resource is needed, this gap in resources came home to roost.”
  • Relying primarily on battery storage additions to address near-term supply shortages poses reliability risks…. operators still have limited experience with dispatching batteries on the system…. the performance and effectiveness of battery storage systems are highly dependent on their location…. even the most advanced batteries can provide continuous, stable energy output for limited durations (approximately four hours). Extreme heat waves can last for days…. batteries located long distances from load centers may face transmission congestion when attempting to inject power where needed….

Conclusion: More, Better Planning?

  • Systems with increasing amounts of intermittent resources (e.g., wind and solar) will require additional modeling and stochastic metrics that can provide a more complete measure of resource adequacy and help identify associated reliability risks.
  • The continued development of advanced reliability metrics, including those that examine risks beyond the peak hour, can inform policy and regulatory decisions to promote the reliable transformation to a cleaner system.
  • Existing planning processes and reliability constructs need to better identify the system impacts of retiring resources, examining the status of essential reliability services on the system, including ramping capability, frequency response, and inertia.
  • Regionalization can help promote reliability by efficiently pooling resources; however, increased coordination will be needed to recognize the impacts of transmission constraints and individual state policy goals.

Check you premises, California. Consider the consumer in terms of rates and reliability. Reverse course, don’t speed up. Acknowledge and respect the value of dense mineral energies for electrical generation. Flashlights, candlelight, and portable generators are not the energy future you want.

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