A Southern California Gas Co. executive Monday gave a slightly more optimistic view of the summer blackout potential for the Los Angeles area if the utility’s Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility remains closed -- an issue that will come up before a Senate committee Tuesday.
Bret Lane, chief operating officer for Southern California Gas, said the company built its system around use of Aliso Canyon, the largest natural gas storage plant in the state and fourth largest in the country. And although the utility maintains that the facility remains critical for the reliability of the energy system, Lane said the company is reviewing ways to keep the lights on in the event of an extended heatwave.
“I think the potential [for blackouts] is very real,” Lane said during an interview. “It’s a question of when the system gets stressed, can it stand up to the load requirements.”
Lane’s handicapping the likelihood of blackouts as “potential” is less dire than that contained in a report by the state’s energy agencies. The April report portrayed blackouts as probable this summer without the natural gas usually stored at the Aliso Canyon storage facility.
State lawmakers called for a hearing, scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in Sacramento, after an article in The Times raised doubts about the energy agencies’ conclusion that Southern Californians could face intermittent blackouts during up to 14 days this summer because of short natural gas supplies in the wake of the Aliso Canyon shutdown.
The Southern California Gas Co. leaking well forced thousands of residents in and near Porter Ranch to temporarily relocate.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Signs and gates on the Porter Ranch hillsides indicate the boundary of Southern California Gas Co., where an ongoing gas leak has prompted hundreds of complaints.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Porter Ranch resident Jaimee Choi prepares for her first day at work as a manager at a restaurant while her father, Francis Choi, hugs the family dog in a Burbank hotel after they were displaced by a gas leak near their Porter Ranch home.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Lori Choi, right, and her daughter, Jaimee Choi, walk their dogs outside the Burbank hotel where they are staying after they were displaced by a gas leak near their Porter Ranch home. “We’ve come to Burbank for the clean air,” Jaimee joked.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Jaimee Choi prepares for her first day at a new job by studying work material in a Burbank hotel where she is staying with her family.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
President and CEO of SoCal Gas Dennis Arriola, center, apologizes for problems that residents near an ongoing gas leak near Porter Ranch are experiencing as Gillian Wright, vice president of customer services for SoCal Gas, left, looks on during a city council meeting in downtown Los Angeles.(Christina House / Christina House)
Danielle Michaels, right, a resident of Porter Ranch, speaks during a city council meeting about the health problems her two sons, ages 11 and 8, are experiencing because of an ongoing gas leak near her home in Porter Ranch.(Christina House / Christina House)
Parents pick up their children at Porter Ranch Community School in the North San Fernando Valley just south of the Southern California Gas Co. Aliso Canyon Storage Facility. Filters are being installed in the school’s ventilation system to help with the smell caused by a nearby gas leak.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
The entrance to the Southern California Gas Co. Aliso Canyon Storage Facility sits at the intersection of Tampa Avenue and Sesnon Boulevard in Porter Ranch.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Representatives of the three agencies -- the California Energy Commission, the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Independent System Operator -- will discuss the report’s conclusions at the hearing before the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee.
Aliso Canyon became the focus of national attention after one of the 115 wells at the facility began to leak in October. It took four months for Southern California Gas to stop the leak and seal the well, but not before forcing thousands of residents in the nearby Porter Ranch community to leave their homes and flee to temporary housing because of complaints of illness.
The leak and related expenses so far have cost Southern California Gas $665 million, virtually all of which has been covered by insurance.
Critics of the state report called the talk of blackouts a “threat” that the energy agencies and the utility companies, which helped draft the report, were using to help keep Aliso Canyon operating.
They pointed to possible uses of other parts of the energy system, such as Southern California Gas’ second-largest natural gas storage facility, the Honor Rancho field, about 10 miles north of Aliso Canyon in Los Angeles County.
“What about Honor Rancho?” Powers said. “They say, ‘Honor Rancho is hours away. Honor Rancho is not part of the system.’”
Energy consultant Robert McCullough agreed with Lane’s description of the key problem for Southern California Gas: The utility built its system and how it operates around use of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility.
Now, the gas company and the state are reviewing other strategies.
“The system was built with the existing storage in place” at Aliso Canyon, said McCullough, who heads McCullough Research of Portland, Ore. "Everybody depended on it. What we are now seeing is full system testing, where you have to test the whole system to see what works and what doesn’t.”
Lane acknowledged that the utility companies are reviewing other possibilities, such as making use of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s hydroelectric plants; tapping so-called peaking power units, which are called on during periods of high demand, including an 800-megawatt natural gas plant in Palm Springs that can ramp up to full capacity in 15 minutes; and using more circuitous pipeline routes that would enable Honor Rancho to provide some gas to the L.A. basin.
In addition, Lane said the energy agencies and the utilities are working to determine what the energy needs are on an hourly, daily and multiple-day basis to find ways to meet whatever the demand might be as the dog days of summer hit.
Even so, one primary aim is to return Aliso Canyon to service, Lane said.
“We are concerned about summer reliability,” he said. “We’re also concerned about winter reliability.”
State Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), who is a member of the committee holding the hearing, has said that two-thirds of Porter Ranch residents don’t want Aliso Canyon to reopen.
Aliso Canyon still maintains 15 billion cubic feet of natural gas, or roughly 17% of its capacity, which Southern California Gas wants to tap. The utility currently can’t touch that supply or inject new gas into the field under an order by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Lane said the company has nearly completed the first of two phases of a review of the 114 remaining wells. About 10 wells have completed the second phase of testing.
By the end of August, Lane said, the company wants to begin injecting gas at Aliso Canyon again.
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