California agency to vote on extending lives of aging gas plants

Sept 1 (Reuters) - California, which imposed rolling blackouts during an oppressive heat wave on two days last month, will decide on Tuesday whether to extend the lives of four aging natural gas plants it has been seeking to retire for a decade.

The vote by the State Water Resources Control Board follows a state analysis last year that identified a potential electricity capacity shortfall beginning in the summer of 2021, according to agency documents.

The vote is unrelated to last month’s outages, which the state’s grid operator has blamed on a gas plant dropping offline, low wind power and a lack of imported electricity from other states due to scorching temperatures across the West.

Nevertheless, the Sept. 1 meeting will be the state’s first opportunity to address its power needs since the blackouts, which critics including President Donald Trump have blamed on the state’s aggressive clean energy goals.

California has among the most ambitious policies to combat climate change of any U.S. state, including a goal of sourcing 60% of its power from renewable sources by 2030.

The water board will vote on approval of up to three-year extensions for the AES Corp-owned Alamitos and Huntington Beach plants and GenOn Holdings Inc-owned Ormond Beach plant, as well as a one year extension for AES’ Redondo Beach facility.

The plants use ocean water for cooling, which a 2010 state policy ordered to be phased out due to adverse effects on marine life. The state’s energy agencies can request delays in its implementation if grid reliability becomes an issue.

The current compliance date for the plants is Dec. 31, but last year the California Public Utilities Commission recommended here the plants' extension as a "bridge" while 3,300 megawatts of new resources and energy storage is built. That's about enough capacity to provide power to 4 million homes. (Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by David Gregorio)