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Calif. blackout warnings overblown, consumer advocates argue

California state regulators oversold the resulting fromSouthern California GasCo.'s Aliso Canyon gas storage facility leak, consumer advocatescontended.

Claims that the Los Angeles area could experience 14 days ofblackouts over the coming summer, along with other energy disruptions in thefollowing months, are "unsupported" and "misleading," BillPowers, a consulting energy and environmental engineer, said in a reportpublished by Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch.

"[S]uch claims are based on inflated estimates of thedemand for electric power, underestimates of the capacity of other SoCalGas gasstorage facilities, and other unsubstantiated or flawed data," Powerswrote of the blackout predictions.

Environmental group Food & Water Watch claims to be thefirst national organization to call for a ban on hydraulic fracturing.

Santa Monica, Calif.-based Consumer Watchdog echoed Powers'complaints about the analysis and noted that SoCalGas had been an author of thetechnical assessment predicting the blackouts.

"It appears that Southern California Gas, and itsparent company [SempraEnergy], concocted these misrepresentations to preserve itsinvestment in Aliso Canyon and that the [California Public UtilitiesCommission] and energy regulators allowed the false statements to be publishedwithout scrutiny under the state seal," Consumer Watchdog said in an April12 letter to state legislators.

SoCalGas discovered in late October 2015 that a well at theAliso Canyon facility was leaking. The utility sealed the breached well inmid-February, but the field still only has about 15 Bcf of gas — well below itscapacity of 86.2 Bcf — and state regulators have said the company cannotreinject gas until the field's working wells are deemed safe.

The facility has historically been a main supply source forgas-fired generation in the region, particularly during the summer when powerdemand is typically highest and can vary with weather and other conditions.

While Aliso Canyon is largely out of commission, though,Powers said that SoCalGas's othergas storage facilities — Honor Rancho, La Goleta and Playa del Rey,which collectively store almost 50 Bcf of gas — can supply up to 1.8 Bcf/d.

State regulators and the California ISO said in an April 5 action plan that theseother facilities may not be able to effectively fill the void.

"Given the small size of Play[a] del Rey, and the factsthat Honor Rancho is several hours of flow farther away and La Goleta is toofar away and only marginally connected to the [local gas transmission system,the] L.A. loop, Aliso Canyon is the only storage field available to supporthourly operating changes within the L.A. basin," the Aliso Canyon actionplan said.

Powers challenged some of these claims, arguing that the reportmischaracterized the relationships between the Los Angeles basin and SoCalGas'sworking storage facilities.

Regardless, significant additional supplies may not benecessary, Powers contended. The highest SoCalGas peak summer natural gasdemand over the last decade was 3.7 Bcf/d, which is less than the 3.875 Bcf/dof firm pipeline capacity the utility holds, he said. Further, neighboringstates, such as Arizona and Nevada, also are highly dependent on gas butfunction without gas storage facilities.

"They assure natural gas supply by relying on firmcapacity contracts with pipeline operators serving those states," Powerssaid.

The authors of the Aliso Canyon action plan objected toPowers' report, contending that he misjudged the purpose of their technicalanalysis and proposal.

"The analysis that Bill Powers prepared … appears tomisunderstand the purpose and focus of the Action Plan. It questions thelong-term need for the Aliso Canyon Storage facility and mistakenly assumesthat the purpose of the joint agency effort is to justify the continuedoperation of Aliso Canyon. The joint agencies disagree with this premise andanalysis," the California Energy Commission, CPUC, CAISO, and said April 13 over email in a collective statement.

Instead, they said, the report was intended to analyze andprepare for risks associated with expected gas curtailments.

SoCalGas said in an April 13 emailed statement that it wasworking to comply with state rules to bring Aliso Canyon back online in aneffort to support the reliability of the region's gas and electricity supply.The company said earlier this month that it is following a three-phase plan todetermine whether the Aliso Canyon storage facility is safe reopen and hopes toat least partially restoreoperations at the field by the end of the summer.