PM Map 0827

Graphic showing the amount by which particulate-matter emissions would change under a 20-percent electricity load increase in California.

Higher electricity demand in California from climate change and electrification policies could increase the amount of air pollution in disadvantaged communities due to increased natural gas peaker plant usage, if the state's current electricity system had to supply the higher demand, according to a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

Disadvantaged communities in California could experience a doubling in the amount of nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxide and particulate matter compared with non-disadvantaged communities in California, the study, completed in July, says. Sacramento, the Central Valley and the greater Los Angeles area—areas that already have poor air quality—would experience the largest increases in ambient concentrations of all three pollutants, the study says.

"Higher demand for electricity, especially at peak times, would result in higher emissions of local air pollutants from fossil plants, which translate to higher ambient concentrations downwind," the study says.

"This [study] points to an environmental justice issue related to possible increases of electrification of end uses—absent matching increases in renewable generation capacity," the study says. "Absent policy intervention, a higher burden is placed on [disadvantaged] communities relative to the rest of California, exacerbating already significant inequalities in environmental equity across these two types of communities."

Gas-fired peaker plants might be needed through 2045 per the California Energy Commission's SB 100 model, CEC staff told California Energy Markets in an Aug. 25 email. The CEC has not modeled a plan that includes no gas peaker plant usage, either from plants inside or outside California, staff said.

Researchers in the study assumed that electricity load in the West would increase by 20 percent in the future, due primarily to the effects of climate change and industry electrification. Climate change will increase temperatures and therefore increase air-conditioner usage, particularly at peak demand times, researchers said. Similarly, building and transportation electrification is projected to cause significant increases in electricity usage. Air-pollutant levels in general could increase about 1 percent relative to the study's assumed electricity-usage increase of 20 percent.

Building electrification has accelerated in California over the past two years: Numerous local governments have passed building codes that mandate all-electric residential construction. Furthermore, the CEC this month adopted a building code that requires single-family homes to be either all-electric or wired to accept electric appliances (see CEM No. 1654). Building electrification could increase electricity consumption in the state by 3 to 9 percent by 2030 under a "low-electrification" scenario, a July CEC report says (see related story). Under a "moderate electrification" scenario, electricity consumption could increase 5 to 19 percent, the CEC's report says.

The California Public Utilities Commission in June ordered load-serving entities in the state to procure 11.5 GW of new zero-emission energy resources by 2026 (see CEM No. 1647).

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Staff Writer

David Krause is an energy reporter covering the California Energy Commission and Air Resources Board. He writes about transportation, climate change, utilities, and wildfires. He has an MFA in Writing, an MA in English, and a BS in Civil Engineering.