LADWP braces for gas shortages this summer

Crews from SoCalGas and outside experts work on a relief well at the Aliso Canyon facility above Porter Ranch on Dec. 9, 2015.
Crews from SoCalGas and outside experts work on a relief well at the Aliso Canyon facility above Porter Ranch on Dec. 9, 2015.
Dean Musgrove/Los Angeles Daily News

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The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will buy more power now, sell less in coming months and bombard the public with pleas to conserve both water and gas, all in an effort to avoid having to shut down gas-powered electrical plants when demand peaks this summer.

The agency's action is in response to an anticipated natural gas shortage that could occur as fallout from the now-capped natural gas leak near Porter Ranch, general manager Marcie Edwards told the LADWP's governing board Tuesday.

Power plants would be among the first big users to lose their natural gas supply in the event of shortages if the now-idle gas storage field at Aliso Canyon remains off line for the rest of the year, according to state Public Utilities Commission rules. Residential customers and small businesses that buy gas directly from the field's operator, Southern California Gas Company, would be the last to be cut off during a gas shortage.

Plenty of natural gas is coming into California from six interstate pipelines, and it's used to generate about half of the state's electrical power. But there's no big place to store the gas because the Aliso Canyon facility is not accepting any more gas until aging wells there are inspected and deemed secure. The inspection process could take many months.

Until then, the reservoir, which can normally hold about 86 billion cubic feet of gas underground, has been ordered to keep only about 15 billion cubic feet of gas for delivery to customers. That amounts to about three days' supply during a cold snap in the winter or a heat wave during the summer when gas-fired plants are most needed to meet demand. SoCal Gas has other underground storage fields at Playa del Rey and near Santa Clarita but they are not big enough or close enough to power plants to substitute for the Aliso Canyon storage field.

Four LADWP plants and 14 other gas-fueled power plants  operated by other entities in Los Angeles and Orange counties face the same potential curtailments.

Edwards told the board that the utility is already buying up future supplies of electricity and making plans to sell less of the power it produces this summer to conserve supplies for its own use.

LADWP can also activate arrangements with local businesses that have voluntarily agreed to interrupt or cut back on their energy use in exchange for lower power rates. The LADWP also plans to issue power and gas conservation messages, called Flex Alerts, to persuade the public to cut back on usage.

Edwards said she planned to ask SoCal Gas to come up with financial incentives to persuade its residential gas customers to cut back their use.

"I'm urging the regulators that SoCalGas should be instructed to create an incentive program for their core customers, and pay to have them conserve under emergency conditions as opposed to looking at electrical generators to solve the problem," Edwards said.