As California continues to pursue ambitious goals for greenhouse gas emissions, local power producers voice diverging perspectives on the effect the corresponding state and local efforts are likely to have on the energy sector in the Long Beach area.

“The energy sector will remain challenging in the Long Beach area,” AES Southland Director of Generation Weikko Wirta told the Business Journal. “As an influx of rooftop solar continues, the belly of the infamous duck curve will continue to be more depressed, and the late afternoon ramp rates will continue to be more pronounced.” The “duck curve” describes the incongruence between the time of day when alternative sources of energy, especially solar power generators, are most productive – during the day – and the times of peak demand on the power grid, which occur in the early morning and evening.

“This will require flexible, fast ramping generation or energy storage resources to meet this demand,” Wirta concluded. Utilities can help counter the timing imbalance between alternative power production and peak power demand by providing consumers with incentives to modify their power usage, he noted. “Load flexibility – changing energy use timing to support the grid – provides customers [with] cost benefits while reducing pressure on the electrical grid [and] is almost as important as energy conservation measures,” Wirta explained.

Alamitos Energy Center Groundbreaking
On June 27, AES broke ground on the battery storage unit at the site of the new Alamitos Energy Center. Pictured from left: Nicholas Cabeza, field representative for Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell; Gus Flores, principal manager of origination for Southern California Edison; Ken Zagzebski, president of AES Southland Energy; 3rd District Councilmember Suzie Price; Manuel Pèrez Dubuc, senior vice president of global new energy solutions for The AES Corporation; Long Beach Fire Chief Xavier Espino; and John Zahurancik, chief operation officer of Fluence. (Photograph by Brandon Richardson)

As more Californians transition to electric vehicles, vehicle-to-grid technology provides another opportunity to even out the imbalance, Wirta pointed out. This technology, which is currently being piloted in programs across the world, including on the small island nation of Barbados and on the Portuguese island of Porto Santo, enables electric vehicles to return unused energy to the grid while stationary.

For those who still rely on gas and diesel-powered vehicles, Robert Grundstrom, leader for the L.A. Basin at the California Resources Corporation, paints an uncertain picture. “Oil prices are particularly sensitive to supply disruptions and concerns over global energy security. Recent attacks in the Middle East on oil supertankers have driven global oil prices higher,” Grundstrom told the Business Journal. “An escalation in these incidents or a more significant supply disruption could dramatically impact prices that Californians pay at the pump.”

Fuel prices in the Los Angeles area shot up significantly from the end of March to early May, reaching a peak average of over $4 per gallon, but appeared unaffected by the recent attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz in late June, when the average price dropped to $3.7 per gallon.

Overall, Grundstrom voiced concerns over the future of California’s energy supply and the cost associated with it. “Californians send $32 billion per year out of state to buy oil from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, and other states and foreign countries. The local energy sector should retain more of that market, investing those resources back in California,” Grundstrom argued. “Unfortunately, activist groups have proposed regressive energy policies aimed at limiting local oil and gas production which threaten our energy security, local government revenues and working Californians,” he added. “Further restricting local energy operations would simply increase our reliance on imports from places that do not apply California’s leading safety, labor, human rights and environmental standards.”

Grundstrom cautioned against a single-minded focus on renewable energy and advocated for continued and renewed investment in oil and gas production instead. “Through our unique THUMS and Tidelands production-sharing agreements, the City of Long Beach and the State benefit directly from every barrel of oil produced here,” Grundstrom said. “This sustainable, affordable and reliable energy source will remain a key economic engine for Long Beach.”

While recognizing the challenges associated with shutting down traditional power plants, such as the closure of three gas-powered plants announced by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in February, Wirta shared a more optimistic outlook on the potential of alternative energy in the region. “The state’s focus on appliance and building efficiency standards will help drive conservation goals,” he said.

In addition to federal efficiency standards, the California Energy Commission sets state-wide standards for the efficiency of electrical appliances, such as refrigerators or ceiling fans, and new buildings. “We will see a continued increase in the areas of renewable generation, a reduced number of gas and diesel vehicles and a significant number of electric vehicles of all types hitting the roads,” Wirta said.