SACRAMENTO — California relies too heavily on natural gas to fuel the power plants that generate nearly half of its electricity, leaving the state’s consumers vulnerable to price swings, a new study has found.
In pursuit of cleaner power, California increasingly has switched to natural gas for its power plants during the past 20 years. But that means higher prices and even electricity shortages if the gas supply dwindles, according to RAND, a nonpartisan Santa Monica-based research organization.
California produces only 15 percent of its natural gas, importing the rest from Canada, the Rocky Mountain states and New Mexico.
Consumers already saw their natural gas bills zoom upward during late 2000 and early 2001 because of tight supply, which state power regulators blamed on gas sellers not using pipelines to their full capacity. The industry has denied any wrongdoing. The shortage, however, raised electricity prices because gas fuels 45 percent of power plants in the state.
RAND, which wrote the report for the Energy Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization, projects the state’s natural gas consumption will increase between 18 percent and 50 percent by 2010, mostly due to new power plants. Researchers say there could be supply bottlenecks unless more pipelines are built or existing pipes widened.
Rather than completely shift away from the fuel, the state should speed the permitting process, boost reliance renewable energy and expand incentives for electricity conservation, the study recommended.
Coal and nuclear power fuel a third of the state’s power plants. Hydroelectric dams and alternative energy sources comprise the rest.