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Renewable Energy Targets Call for Extra Fossil Fuel Plants

White Water, California, USA — Wind Farm in Desert — Image by © Ron Chapple/Corbis

It seems that almost every state or country has set a target to cut down greenhouse emissions and boost renewable energy generation 2020. This is the case in the state of California, whose aim is to produce one third of their electricity from wind and solar sources by then.

However, this target has initiated quite a heated debate over the last month or so. The argument is that with more renewable sources being introduced to power the grid, more back up sources, typically gas-fired generators, would be needed. The reasoning is that although at first glance the renewables are “free”, they are heavily dependent on weather and climate conditions.

The Delta Energy Center near San Francisco is a gas-power plant that is in strong competition with the alternatives. Mitchell Weinberg, director of strategic development for Calpine Corp., owner of Delta Center, however is convinced that gas-powered sources are even more needed than before.

Despite the fact that wind turbines and solar panels have the capacity to produce enough energy to meet the target, their source can disappear easily and fossil fuel plants should be on standby to so that the grid is powered and blackouts are avoided, an LA Times article said today.

The biggest thermal generating plants- Alamitos Power Plant in Long Beach produces 2,000 megawatts of power, it has to be rebuilt at a very high cost. If invested in this renewal, the price will definitely be projected on the consumers..

Severin Borenstein, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business states that this demand for back-up generators was not considered when the plans were made.

According to Stephen Berberich, chief executive of the California Independent System Operator, the company that runs the grid, the reserved capacity should be doubled by 2020. The company estimates that by 2017, the state will be already short by 3,100 megawatts of flexible power.

These numbers, however, are controversial and have been heavily criticized by solar and wind advocates. Their argument is that the spreading of solar and wind power generators over large areas ensures that if one source is down, the other would be boosted.

According to Nancy Rader, executive director of the California Wind Energy Assn, these numbers were shown only to shock the public. Edward Randolf, director of Public Utility Comission’s (PUC) energy division added that emergency utilities can be ordered to account for immediate problems. New technologies such as batteries, flywheels or others that can provide storage will also be encouraged and will be available on the market.

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