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Solar power generation hits record levels

SAN DIEGO — With Southern California’s largest electric generating station broken and scheduled for removal, solar generation levels have reached a record level in California, state officials said Sunday.

Solar power generation on California’s grid set a new all-time high output of 2,071 megawatts at 12:59 p.m. Friday, said officials at the California ISO, the state agency that balances customer demand on regulated power utilities with power generation from commercial vendors.

That nearly equals the 2,250 megawatts of nuclear-powered generation that was lost in January, 2012, when small amounts of radiation began leaking from Southern California Edison’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, at Camp Pendleton.

San Diego Gas & Electric owns 20 percent of San Onofre, and has historically received one fifth of its power from the iconic nuclear plant, 65 miles north of San Diego. SDG&E has reassured its customers it can import sufficient replacement power from natural gas, wind and geothermal plants in the Imperial Valley via its new Sunrise Powerlink transmission line.

Solar-arraysThe amount of solar energy generated on Friday was enough to power more than 1.5 million homes across California, Cal ISO officials said.

“This new record is remarkable considering the amount has more than doubled since last September. when solar peaked at 1,000 megawatts,” said Steve Berberich, the agency’s president. “We are excited by this trend and expect to hit more record peaks on a regular basis.”

California is the largest producer of solar power in the nation. Total statewide electric demand on Friday was about 36,000 megawatts, meaning solar power supplied more than five percent of demand for electricity, the agency said.

Despite the solar wattage surge, regulators predicted very-tight supplies of electricity for California this summer.  Natural gas-powered generators were expected to fill much of the need.

But Cal ISO officials have said southern Orange County and San Diego County have relied on the San Onofre nuclear power beyond just its megawatts of power. The once-reliable constant power from its two nuclear generators were also used as a gigantic voltage regulator for Southern California, allowing engineers to mix power from different sources into the grid and allocate it where necessary.

The loss of San Onofre’s voltage regulation function has challenged engineers, and state officials have drafted contingency plans to avoid system overloads and malfunctions. Southern Orange County and San Diego County are the particularly-vulnerable areas, Cal ISO officials said last winter.

An old natural gas generating station at Huntington Beach, once scheduled for mothballs, was pressed into service as an emergency voltage regulator last summer, allowing blackouts to be averted.

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