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The California Independent System Operator: A High Wire Act on Solid Ground

May 20, 2015  |  by Woody Hastings

Recently I visited the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) – my first visit ever. I always wondered why CAISO was located in Folsom, California. I learned that Folsom is one of the least seismically active areas in the State, yet still close to the centers of policy decision-making.

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Why locate CAISO on stable ground? CAISO manages the flow of electricity across more than 25,000 miles of transmission lines, serves about 30 million people, and balances electricity supply and demand every four seconds. If this high wire system ever went down, calamity would ensue.

A top priority for CAISO is figuring out how to ensure grid reliability while helping to lead the transition to a low carbon energy future. The energy industry is in a period of unprecedented transition from the one-hundred year-old central station model with large power plants and long transmission lines to a more decentralized model with intermittent renewables such as solar and wind accounting for a rapidly increasing proportion of power generation in California.

CAISO is a non-profit public benefit corporation founded in 1997 at the outset of the experiment in electric utility deregulation. Prior to its existence, a sort of “wild west” existed where the grid was managed in a less than optimal way by the three largest utilities themselves, each with their own best interest in mind, not necessarily the best interest of the overall electricity system or the electricity customer.

Currently CAISO manages a statewide power mix that includes about 22% renewables. The State goal for 2020 is 33%, a goal that Sonoma Clean Power has already achieved. By 2030 the State aims to achieve 50% renewable energy in the mix. Although this amount of renewable in the mix presents some technical challenges, it is certainly achievable. With the advent of practical, affordable energy storage, the future prospects for intermittent renewables have improved.

Interested in learning more about CAISO? It’s easy to schedule a tour.

Woody Hastings is the Renewable Energy Implementation Manager at The Climate Center. He can be reached at woody@theclimatecenter.org

Another Important Legislative Victory for Community Choice Energy

A two-year struggle to defeat an insidious piece of legislation in Sacramento, Assembly Bill 976, has come to a happy conclusion. On September 27 Governor Brown vetoed AB976 and added a brief signing statement (see below). In this statement the Governor echoed what community choice proponents drove home repeatedly in committee hearings and elsewhere.

The Climate Protection Campaign worked with the Marin Energy Authority, the Local Energy Aggregation Network, the Local Clean Energy Alliance, and other community choice energy supporters throughout the state to pull off what many consider to be an upset victory. We fought big money and influential utility lobbyists trying to pass the bill.

It would have singled out community choice energy programs like Sonoma Clean Power and prohibited them from using the same consulting service before and after the launch of a program. Because Community Choice Aggregation is a relatively new field, few expert consulting services exist.

With the defeat of Proposition 16 in 2010, passage of SB790 in 2011, and defeat of AB976 in 2012, the coast is getting clearer and clearer for emerging community choice energy programs throughout California to launch.

Many thanks to all of you who joined the fight, signed on to opposition letters, and sent your own letters.

   – Woody Hastings

To the Members of the California State Assembly:

I am returning Assembly Bill 976 without my signature.

This bill prohibits any company from doing business with a Community Choice Aggregation program if that company advised a local government on establishing the program.

This goes too far –local governments already have plenty of laws on conflicts of interests and transparent decision making. Adding the restriction in this bill would serve only to impede efforts to establish community choice energy programs.

Sincerely,

Edmund G. Brown Jr.