Facing potential blackouts, California regulators boost efficiency spending for low-income communities

Dive Brief:

  • California regulators issued a decision last week allowing SoCalGas and SCE to use unspent and underspent funds from their Energy Savings Assistance (ESA) Programs, and to shift those funds as needed within existing budget categories to achieve near term savings.
  • The California Public Utilities Commission also relaxed administrative rules in an effort to open the door for utilities to help low-income customers reduce their demand in an effort to head off potential shortages.
  • The Aliso Canyon leak depleted the gas storage facility to about one-fifth of its capacity, and customers could face as much as two weeks of blackouts in California stemming from constrained gas supplies.

Dive Insight:

The Aliso Canyon leak was finally plugged earlier this year after almost four months, leaving the storage facility crippled and California generators facing potential shortages. While both SoCalGas and SCE have also asked state regulators to approve strict restrictions on gas nominations heading into the peak summer season, they are also taking strides to address the problem from the demandside.

The California Public Utilities Commission last week issued an order that lifted several rules, including allowing the utilities to address efficiency upgrades at a previously served household when that would allow the companies to target significant savings – at least 10% for SoCalGas and 4% for SCE customers.

Regulators directed the utilities to "intensify existing programmatic efforts in the geographic regions most impacted by the natural gas leak, to suspend certain administrative rules to facilitate near-term electric and natural gas savings and to utilize underspent and unspent funds already collected from ratepayers in for the emergency response effort to the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility natural gas leak."

Environmental advocates have used the event to call for less reliance on fossil fuels.

"Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon storage facility is exposing a critical weakness in the state’s energy system," EDF said in a blog post. "Overdependence on natural gas – and on one provider of that gas – means we don’t have the flexibility we need to cope if things go wrong. And now that they have gone wrong."

Natural Resources Defense Council applauded regulators' decision, but said the CPUC should have gone farther.

"Unfortunately, the decision remained silent as to whether utilities can deploy new measures that the commission has not explicitly approved," NRDC said last week on its blog. "Yet, nearly all stakeholders recommended a host of new energy-savings measures that could be deployed, such as: LED lighting, advanced power strips, and heat pump water heaters."

NRDC added that commission staff has the authority to convene stakeholders to recommend new measures, and "we hope the commission will not waste the opportunity to capture significantly more savings in the affected region by soliciting input on new measures and providing utilities with the flexibility to implement them."

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Filed Under: Generation
Top image credit: Aaron McMahon