Sunlight and wind can't be ramped up or down to match demand, like traditional power plants can. Increasingly, the California grid operator — California Independent System Operator (CAISO) - is forced to pay solar plants to stop generating when there isn't enough demand. "
Gov. Jerry Brown and investor Warren Buffett, the world's second-wealthiest person, think they have a partial solution to that problem: Find California a bigger grid.
Right now, CAISO oversees 80 percent of the California grid, including the wires owned by Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric. Under Brown and Buffett's plan, CAISO would expand to oversee PacifiCorp, a Buffett-owned utility that serves customers in Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and a slice of Northern California.
If that happens, advocates say, California solar farms could operate more hours by selling excess energy to other states, rather than having to shut down when supply exceeds in-state demand. California could also tap wind power from places with especially strong gusts, like New Mexico and Wyoming. Some out-of-state wind farms already plan to sell electricity to California. But institutional and financial barriers make those kinds of projects the exception, not the rule, grid experts say.
A more integrated western grid would also bring financial benefits, according to supporters of CAISO expansion. If the grid operator expands to include utilities across the West, they say, California homes and businesses could save billions of dollars on their electricity bills, in part because it would be cheaper for the Golden State to meet its ambitious renewable energy goals.
Environmentalists are worried it could have unintended consequences, like giving coal-friendly Utah and Wyoming the power to force dirty electricity into California, undermining the state's environmental policies and leading to increased climate pollution across the West. (The Desert Sun, 2/1/2017)