State plans to build a power plant near Modesto to avert rolling outages
The state plans to build a power plant near northeast Modesto to help fend off rolling outages starting next summer. The plant, fueled by natural gas, would kick on when demand threatens to exceed supply around California. It would be built on a Claribel Road site owned by the Modesto Irrigation District. The MID board voted 5-0 on Tuesday for a tentative agreement that would bring $13 million for use of the land over five years. The district eventually could buy the plant at a steep discount to feed its own electricity system. It already has a substation and transmission lines at the site. “Frankly, to get a deal like this on generation is just unprecedented,” said James McFall, assistant general manager for electric resources, just before the vote. The timeline is unusual, too. A new power plant normally takes several years to plan and build. The Claribel plant would be installed by Enchanted Rock, a Houston-based energy company that specializes in quick builds.
It would consist of several engines in a stack that could be turned on as needed, much faster than a conventional plant. The site is on the south side of Claribel, half a mile west of Oakdale Road. DWR plans to spend $2.36 billion on such plants around California, said an email from Ryan Endean, assistant deputy director of communications. The amount for the Claribel project is not yet determined. The program aims to keep PG&E and other utilities from having to impose intentional outages on hot days, as happened in recent years. MID is less vulnerable than many, thanks to its flat terrain and lack of dense forest.
The state would own and run the plant for at least five years, with an option for two more. MID could then acquire it for $15.5 million. The plant would have a capacity of 48 megawatts. MID’s total demand typically is about 650 megawatts on summer days with air conditioners and industries humming. MID could use the Claribel plant for its own emergencies when DWR does not need it during the contract term. District leaders said it would come in handy on days like Sept. 6, when demand surged to a record 760 megawatts amid 113-degree heat. That was 58 megawatts beyond the old record. “Just a month ago, we were a little concerned there,” Director Larry Byrd said. “… A little padding would help.”
DWR has long been in the electricity business, generating it at several dams and consuming it to pump water around the state. It was tasked with the outage prevention effort via Assembly Bill 205, enacted in June. The MID board still has to approve a formal contract with DWR and Enchanted Rock. The tentative terms call for completion by July 31, 2023. Along with the $3 million for use of the site, MID would receive up to $250,000 to cover its costs in integrating the plant into the grid. The district is part of an elaborate network for buying and selling electricity across many states. The state requires utilities to get at least 60% of their power from renewable sources by 2030 and all of it by 2045. That gives MID roughly two decades to use the Claribel plant if it opts to buy it from the state. Enchanted Rock has provided gas-fired plants to utilities and other clients around the nation, Chief Commercial Officer Allan Schurr said by phone. They include hospitals, grocers, computer data centers and others concerned about outages. Last month, the city-owned utility in Lodi launched negotiations for a plant of 20 to 48 megawatts. The location and financial terms have not been set. The City Council acted after a major outage amid the early September heat.