You’d better watch out, California’s second-largest provider of natural gas warned again this spring. Unless the notoriously leaky natural gas storage field at Aliso Canyon in northern Los Angeles is reopened soon, much of the state could experience electricity blackouts this summer.
The admonition was almost identical to another Southern California Gas Co. warning issued almost precisely a year ago. If there’s not enough gas in its storage facilities, the company claimed both times, gas-fired power plants might not be able to operate at the hottest times of the summer, when electric use is at its peak.
The prediction didn’t pan out last year, not by a long shot. And there’s no more reason to panic this summer than there was in 2016.
For even though SoCalGas reserves were only at about 60 percent of their normal levels as this summer’s expected heat waves approached, there were no blackouts last year, when exactly the same situation prevailed.
This is all about the big utility’s campaign to reopen Aliso Canyon, in spite of proposed state legislation that could keep it closed unless and until a comprehensive study deems the field can safely reopen and in spite of planned new state rules aimed to prevent more leaks on the scale of Aliso’s.
The site leaked more than 100,000 metric tons of methane between October, 2015 and February, 2016, forcing a months-long evacuation of hundreds of nearby homes and two elementary schools because of the malaise it caused.
Local residents want the field permanently decommissioned. They are backed by Los Angeles city officials, who sued to keep it closed until the cause of the leak is known.
When SoCalGas issued its alarm last year, it suckered officials like Gov. Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti into warning millions of Californians to ease off their gas and electric usage during the summer.
This, of course, ignored the basic fact that natural gas usage is always far higher in winter than summer, because gas fuels so many space heaters, while electricity powers most air conditioning.
In the end, there was no need for worry last year, and chances are strong it will be the same this year. It should have been obvious last year, as it is now, that the SoCalGas warning is a bunch of hooey, aimed primarily at reopening its Aliso Canyon profit center.
In fact, the highest gas use of the last 10 years in the region served by Aliso Canyon came not during any summer, but in the winter of 2008, when natural gas demand in Southern California reached 4.9 billion cubic feet per day. Even that quantity was well below the 5.7 billion cubic feet arriving daily from incoming pipelines and other local storage facilities.
When the usual summertime electric use crunches came during heat waves in late July and early August of last year, deliveries from SoCalGas never even reached 4 billion cubic feet per day, far below the company’s capacity without Aliso.
There were no blackouts, and major media didn’t even bother reporting on ultra-high electric usage on the peak days.
Nevertheless, SoCalGas allies like the Orange County Business Council and the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce repeated the company’s empty springtime warnings in several letters to the editor and op-eds. One even compared the potential for blackouts to San Francisco’s widespread April blackout. Never mind that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. blamed that one on a facility fire, not on any shortage of fuel for power plants.
So far, there is one major change from last year: no major officials or agencies are taking up the latest cry from SoCalGas.
Essentially, SoCalGas lied about the blackout danger last year, an effort consumer advocates labeled “blackout blackmail.” The same phrase can be applied this year, too, as big utilities continue squandering the public trust they carefully built by supplying energy reliably through the 20th century.