June 30, 2016

The 4th of July weekend means summer is in full swing – everyone is escaping the heat by heading to the beach or blasting their air conditioning. For electric utilities, it means we are in blackout season, and the threat is greater due to the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak.

Southern Californians have heard a lot about Porter Ranch. Now, all of the Southern Californian utilities are advertising the high probability of blackouts this summer. What’s the link? How does a natural gas leak lead to the lights going out?

Porter Ranch is a community located less than 5 miles from the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility. The largest in California, it is made up of 115 storage wells. When one leaked, thousands of residents were displaced from their homes and the rate of methane emissions for the Los Angeles basin more than doubled. That means the one leaking pipe continuously released more methane into the atmosphere than all of the cars, power plants, airports and smoke stacks in the Los Angeles basin. When the leak was finally contained, the California Legislature issued a temporary moratorium on gas injections into the facility until each well was individually inspected and tested.

The facility has not been emptied, so there is still supply for periods of peak gas consumption, but the availability is reduced. While the majority of the natural gas goes to heating, refineries and natural gas vehicles  , Aliso Canyon’s storage facility supplies 52 electric power plants or 60% of the region’s residential, commercial and industrial customers.

A shortage of stored natural gas means these power plants cannot ramp up production to meet the high electrical demand. If there is too much demand and not enough supply, we get blackouts. To make the situation even more complicated, Southern California still faces a drought!  In 2014, hydroelectric generation was just 38% of 2011, our last wet year. With drought conditions ongoing, hydropower will not be a reliable source of energy to make up for the leaks.

When you head to the beach this weekend, take a break from the waves and check out the local power plants that provide your electricity:
– The 550 MW Scattergood Generating Station in El Segundo (pictured above)
– The 1,310 MW AES Redondo Beach Natural Gas Power Plant
– The 450 MW AES Huntington Beach
– The 573 MW Mandalay Power Station in Oxnard

These are all natural gas power plants that rely on Aliso Canyon. Take a good look and be grateful that America’s power grid is resilient and blackouts are rare. Then, cool down in the Pacific, limit your electricity consumption, and invest in alternative energy systems! Happy Independence Day!

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