Regulators will soon decide between two paths regarding SCE’s proposed pilot — one where DER remains secondary to natural gas and another where they move to transform the distribution system.
A decision facing California regulators will show how deeply the state is committed to the energy transition for which Democrat Governor Jerry Brown claims national and global leadership.
The decision is whether to approve the second phase of the Southern California Edison (SCE) Preferred Resources Pilot (PRP). The PRP would ultimately be the largest scale test to date for the proposition that a portfolio of distributed energy resources (DER) can be as reliable as a natural gas plant in a transmission-constrained load pocket.
California’s leadership in renewable generation remains unchallenged. Q1 2018’s 1,019 MW of new solar capacity were more than twice second place Florida’s 482 MW. Its 5,686 MW of installed wind capacity make it the fourth leading state and the only one in the top five outside the Midwestern wind belt. At 2:12 pm on May 26, California served 73.9% of its load with renewables.
But the bulk of those numbers come from utility-scale generation on the transmission system. The California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) objective to reform utility distribution planning through the Distributed Energy Resources (DER) Action Plan is still a work in progress.
2013’s Assembly Bill 327 ordered the CPUC to “minimize overall system cost and maximize ratepayer benefits from investments in preferred resources.” In response, SCE initiated the PRP. It is “a multiyear study” to use “clean energy resources — including solar, wind, energy storage, energy efficiency, and energy conservation” to meet the utility’s growing load and defer the need for new natural gas generation.
At a proposed 238 MW, the SCE PRP would eventually be the biggest real world test of the DER portfolio concept that new Rocky Mountain Institute research shows can be as cost-effective and reliable as natural gas generation, according to SCE.
On February 23, Administrative Law Judge Patricia B. Miles deniedSCE cost recovery on the 125 MW of executed contracts from the utility’s second PRP solicitation. The decision provided a range of reasons for Judge Miles ruling. She found the utility “failed to adequately justify why these 19 contracts are needed” and she found SCE did not show they are “reasonable and cost-effective” in comparison to their “potential qualitative benefits.”