SCE blocks solar power at federal parks

monolaketufaOn the front page of the Los Angeles Times Monday, a story revealed that Southern California Edison has blocked the use of solar power at facilities in Death Valley and Mono Lake.

Edison officials declined to comment on the story that says the national park service and national forests have been negotiating with Edison for at least two years with no agreement to accept solar power into the grid.

The Times reported that a new $800,000 solar project at Death Valley National Park and a solar power system at the U.S. Forest Service’s new facility at Mono Lake are among dozens of “taxpayer-funded projects across California on hold as federal agencies try to hash out an agreement with SCE to tie the projects to the state’s electrical grid.”

Park Service spokesmen said the successfully negotiated deals with PG&E but Edison, they say, has been “a bit more difficult.”  The Times also reported that this impasse has blocked the parks and forest service ability to meet renewable energy goals and to lower power costs.

According to the Times, parks officials at Death Valley hoped to save 70% on power bills at their newly renovated visitors center.  The park’s concessionaire has managed to install a photovoltaic plant which the Times says will generate one-third of the power needed to run the park’s hotels, restaurants, golf course, offices and employee housing.

Officials at Manzanar had problems early on with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power on a contract issue.  SCE is apparently concerned about future liability language.  Meanwhile, the solar panels just sit there

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6 Responses to SCE blocks solar power at federal parks

  1. Ken Warner January 11, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    The frailty of the grid as described by DWP sounds more like a dodge than a reason. If it’s a problem now, then find a way to fix it because we just can keep burning coal for electricity forever.

    There is a huge solar thermal plant right at Four Corners. Been there for years. That doesn’t seem to cause problems.

    Further, ways to ballast photovoltaic systems are being developed, some using large, cheap storage batteries and some even more inventive methods like storing energy in molten salt underground.

    DWP want’s to protect it’s bottom line. If abundant, cheap photovoltaic electricity is available — how will DWP continue to sell it’s hydro-electric energy which has to cost a lot to maintain and is not scaleable or expandable and if long term drought conditions become norm, what will they do? Probably develop solar electric plants.

  2. Rob January 11, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    They seemed to have worked it out with the BLM. What gives?

  3. Russ Monroe January 11, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    This a classic failure of combining too little knowledge with too much authority. Note that in every case you have a government agency that has made a decision to do something without doing the engineering first. Not a new difficulty.
    The DW&P addressed this issue very thoroughly at a public meeting in Lone Pine a year or so ago. DW&P’s power grid engineering team pointed out that the grid can only accept so much of what it referred to as “intermittent power” which must be balanced against the grid load.
    In the simplest terms; solar goes on and off with passing clouds as well as the more obvious night and day cycles. The grid is currently a logistics nightmare of very tenuous management between a number of sources, none of which are very “smart”. Even the DW&P cannot build very large, grid inter-tie solar farms, because of the grid management issues with the current “dumb grid”.
    We are surrounded with “stable” (ha,ha) Hydroelectric power plants pumping into our area of the grid. These plants cannot be flicked on and off with a switch. They must have their output used or they melt down. If people start bringing large amounts of solar power on line, that same amount of power must be cut back from one of the stable sources. If we had fuel powered plants around us, they could be throttled back, but hydroelectric power cannot be throttled very easily.(read: very expensive retrofitting)
    Manzanar would not have tens of thousands of dollars of solar equipment deteriorating in the sun, if management had done it’s homework. At least Mono Lake and Death Valley asked first.
    The simple solution is not to tie to the grid. Costs are a bit higher up front but the freestanding systems do not have to go up and down with the grid, and no contracts with mega-corps are needed. From thirty years of first hand experience, I can tell you that not having an Edison or DW&P bill every month is a really GOOD thing!

  4. Ken Warner January 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    It’s just about SCE protecting it’s turf. I doubt that it takes years to agree on language that limits liability. It’s the same old song and dance that the fossil fuel industry — in this case coal for electricity — does whenever renewable green energy threatens inroads on the fossil fuel industries profits.

  5. Mammoth Resident January 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    pretty ridiculous , But I can see how the contract language can be of concern to SCE. It is my understanding that the Government wants to avoid liability on such a project even if they do something wrong. SCE does not want to take the risk.

    • Benett Kessler January 11, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

      I will only point out that other utilities have managed to agree on language that protects everyone.
      Benett Kessler


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