CPUC staff report proposes new ways to close Aliso Canyon’s natural gas storage facility – Daily News

The California Public Utilities Commission on Friday, Sept. 23, made public for comment a staff proposal that creates a framework to replace Southern California Gas Company’s controversial Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility by “using non-gas fired electricity generation and storage, building electrification, and energy efficiency.”

If approved down the road, it could eliminate the Aliso Canyon SoCalGas facility which in October 2015 caused a massive gas leak that forced thousands of people from their homes and spurred a torrent of lawsuits.

The disaster at Aliso Canyon spewed more than 100,000 metric tons of climate-altering methane into the atmosphere over the San Fernando Valley, Simi Valley and Los Angeles, making it the largest atmospheric release in U.S. history, and led to a $1.8 billion settlement with 35,000 victims.

This year in June, six months after introducing a law to shut the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field, state Sen. Henry Stern, who represents part of the San Fernando Valley, took an unusual step — he urged his colleagues in Sacramento to vote “no” on his own bill, Senate Bill 1486.

His colleagues did as Stern requested and killed Stern’s SB 1486. In a newsletter Stern sent on June 7 to his constituents in the San Fernando Valley, Stern released a terse video titled “Aliso Canyon bill hijacked by the gas company.”

The rancor surrounding the huge storage facility has never gone away. The gas leak, which was detected in October 2015 and lasted four months, exposed residents to a host of chemicals, including benzene, which can cause cancer and harm to the reproductive system.

SoCalGas maintains that closing the facility isn’t feasible because it could result in a natural gas shortage, which in turn would cause prices for the fossil fuel to skyrocket. Representatives for the company also insist the site has never been safer, noting that enhanced safety measures have been implemented to reduce the risk of another disaster.

Residents in Porter Ranch and other nearby communities say they’ve continued to experience periodic nosebleeds, headaches, dizziness and other physical ailments. But SoCalGas representatives have said the amount of benzene present during the leak was within normal range.

Last November 4, the CPUC Commission that oversees operations of the Aliso Canyon underground natural gas-storage field voted unanimously to increase the capacity of the controversial field to 41 billion cubic feet. At the time, CPUC Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves said she felt “compelled to propose the increase” of the storage capacity of the field from 34 billion cubic feet to 41 billion cubic feet ahead of the arrival of winter.

But she added that the action the CPUC board was taking didn’t mean “to diminish our ability to take steps and all of the steps that we need to take to decommission” the Aliso Canyon field.

The CPUC staff proposal this week was issued along with a ruling that “details the findings of the CPUC’s review of the reliability and economic modeling from Phase 2 of the Aliso Canyon investigation,” according to a press release provided to media on Friday night.

The new ruling finds that based on the analysis, “Aliso Canyon is currently needed for SoCalGas to reliably meet energy demand in the Los Angeles basin, and therefore sufficient replacement resources must be available for the eventual elimination of Aliso Canyon’s use.”

According to the press statement, the new ruling requires utilities — and invites other parties — to provide proposals in response to the staff proposal, including commenting on the portfolio of non-gas-fired electric generation and storage, building electrification, and energy efficiency needed to replace Aliso Canyon.

The CPUC staff estimates that an annual reduction of 214 million metric cubic feet per day in forecast peak gas demand, or an annual increase of 1,084 megawatts of non-gas-fired electric generation capacity, or some combination of both, “will be necessary to reliably serve all energy demand in 2027 without the use of Aliso Canyon.”

The statement on Friday noted that Senate Bill 380 (Pavley), tasked the CPUC with determining “the feasibility of minimizing or eliminating the use of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility located in the County of Los Angeles while still maintaining energy and reliability for the region.”

According to the CPUC, “since 2017, extensive monitoring and testing at Aliso Canyon has improved safety. In 2018, stringent new regulations went into effect for natural gas storage fields to further protect public health.”

The ruling and staff proposal is available at docs.cpuc.ca.gov/SearchRes.aspx?docformat=ALL&docid=497170260. The public can comment on the ruling, and access documents related to the proceeding, at apps.cpuc.ca.gov/p/I1702002.

Staff writer Olga Grigoryants contributed to this report.

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