San Diego Gas & Electric Co. agreed to buy up to 45 megawatts of electricity from an upgraded gas-fired “peaker” plant in Escondido, pending regulator approval, the utility said Monday.
Peaker generators are designed to start quickly when electricity demand outstrips supply, such as on a hot summer day, or when renewable generators such as solar and wind have sudden drops in production from changes in the weather.
In addition to the proposed deal with Wellhead Electric Co. Inc., the owner of the Escondido plant, SDG&E said it agreed to buy power from two other peaker plants in San Diego County, which would add a total of 450 megawatts of quickly dispatchable power to its local portfolio. The utility said it would need the capacity as it moved toward buying 33 percent of its electricity from renewable generators, as required by state law.
“The output from most kinds of renewable generation fluctuates throughout the day, posing a challenge for our system operators who must balance supply and demand every few seconds to maintain reliability in the region,” James Avery, SDG&E’s senior vice president of power supply, said in a written statement.
Solar generators cost utilities about 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, Avery has said in past interviews. The need for peaker plants add an additional penny per kilowatt-hour to that cost, Avery said.
The natural-gas-fueled generator on Mission Road, called the Escondido Energy Center, was built in 2001 by a subsidiary of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. It ran until 2003, and then sat idle until 2006, when MMC Energy Inc. bought the plant with the intention of upgrading it from its 35-megawatt capacity. In 2009, it sold the plant to Sacramento-based Wellhead as part of its liquidation.
“(The upgrade is) the fruition of an ongoing plan,” said Hal Dittmer, president of Wellhead.
When installed, the new turbine should run cleaner than the current generator, Dittmer said. It will produce 66 percent less smog-producing nitrous oxide, 93 percent less carbon monoxide and up to 40 percent less carbon dioxide, he said.
It also has a higher capacity than the current plant and will be more reliable, Dittmer said. If regulators approve the project promptly, it should be installed by next summer, he said.
In addition to the Wellhead facility, Escondido has two other peakers: CalPeak on Enterprise Street in western Escondido and a plant at the Iceoplex skating rink.
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