September 24, 2023
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Puente alternatives cheaper than gas power plant


By Carmen Ramirez and Craig Lewis

Renewable energy alternatives are technically and economically superior to the proposed gas Puente Power Project in Oxnard.

The Ventura County Taxpayers Association’s guest commentary supporting the Puente gas plant in the Sept. 8 issue of the Business Times contained inaccurate and misleading information.

It’s true that a recent California Independent System Operator (CAISO) study concluded that alternatives to both the Puente gas plant and the nearby Ellwood gas plant would be costly, but CAISO was using 2014 prices for energy storage, which has come down more than 10 percent per year since then. By 2018, storage is expected cost less than half of what it did in 2014.

In addition, CAISO did not model a solar+storage solution, which would bring the price down even further and allow the project to benefit from the 30 percent Investment Tax Credit. CAISO overestimated costs for demand response, too.

The Clean Coalition recently released its own study and model, reflecting up-to-date costs and showing that the Puente and Ellwood gas plants could be replaced far more cost-effectively by using solar+storage.

Specifically, the Clean Coalition found that upfront costs to install a solar+storage solution would be $267 million compared to $299 million for the Puente gas plant. Solar+storage, the Clean Coalition found, could replace both Puente and Ellwood for approximately $406 million in upfront costs — less than half CAISO’s $1.1 billion figure.

Further, the costs of operations, maintenance and fuel would add over $870 million to Puente’s price tag over 30 years. For solar+storage, powered predominantly by the sun, comparable costs would be $462 million. These numbers don’t account for the human and environmental health costs of polluting gas plants like Puente.

The CAISO study did determine that a solar+storage solution can cost-effectively meet the grid reliability needs in the Moorpark sub area, in lieu of the proposed Puente gas plant. The CAISO study is deficient, however, in its cost assumptions and analyses for the clean alternative to the Puente gas plant.

Because of CAISO’s shortcomings, the Taxpayers Association’s commentary referred to significantly erroneous figures associated with renewables-driven alternatives to gas plants.

Furthermore, the Taxpayers Association harped on the fact that Puente would create jobs while failing to mention this is also true of clean energy alternatives. Solar and wind industries are creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. A solar+storage project to replace Puente would mean good local jobs.

The Taxpayers Association’s commentary was also misleading in its dismissal of “yet-to-be-developed battery storage.” Projects are in place today that are taking advantage of current storage technology.

Tesla’s 17 megawatt (MW) solar + 52 megawatt-hour (MWh) storage facility on Kauai can store enough solar energy to power 4,500 homes through the night, making solar dispatchable when it is needed rather than only when the sun is shining.

AES’ scalable 28 MW solar + 100 MWh storage facility, also on Kauai, will provide 11 percent of the island’s electricity needs starting next year, at a game-changing 11 cents per kilowatt-hour for dispatchable solar.

Hence, the proposed Puente gas plant is primed to be obviated with a far more cost-effective solar+storage approach.

Another benefit of a solar+storage solution is that it could be brought online more quickly than the Puente gas plant. The Clean Coalition has designed a game-changing feed-in tariff (FIT) that includes a market responsive pricing mechanism to ensure best value for ratepayers, along with dispatchability to incentivize energy storage.

This innovative FIT is designed to procure and deploy cost-effective renewables+storage much more quickly than auction processes, which are burdened by excessive preparation requirements, transaction costs and failure rates. A well-designed FIT would bring solar+storage online far faster than the Puente gas plant could be built and well ahead of the 2020 need for these resources.

Solar+storage is already providing reliable, clean and affordable energy in communities around the country. It creates jobs and stimulates the economy, while protecting human and environmental health.

Let’s take this opportunity to move the Oxnard community into the clean energy future — which is here already.

• Carmen Ramirez is mayor pro tem of Oxnard. Craig Lewis is executive director of the Clean Coalition.