California PUC considers cold layup plan for Calpine’s Sutter power plant

The California Public Utilities Commission will consider at its Aug. 18 meeting a request from CCFC Sutter Energy for approval to suspend operation of its Sutter Energy Center and place it in a cold layup status.

CCFC is a unit of Calpine Corp. Generators like it are required to notify the commission and the California Independent System Operator at least 90 days in advance before changing the long-term status of a power plant.

A resolution up for review by the commission affirms that CCFC has complied with the applicable standards and authorizes it to suspend operation of Sutter and place it in cold layup for at least 2016.

Sutter is a combined-cycle plant located in Yuba City, Sutter County. The 525 MW (net) plant consists of two gas-fired combustion turbine units and one steam turbine unit. The plant began commercial operation in July 2001. Sutter was originally connected to the Western Area Power Administration transmission system that was under California ISO’s operational control.

In January 2005, WAPA joined the Balancing Authority of North California after a third-party power integration and transmission contract expired. And although WAPA is not a member of CAISO, it exports 50 percent of hydropower generation from the Central Valley Project to preference power customers within the CAISO footprint.

In December 2005, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved Sutter’s pseudo-tie agreement with California ISO and allowed it to reenter the market as a system resource. Sutter is subject to a WAPA transmission charge that other system resources may not incur. This situation has created market challenges for Sutter. Sutter tried to procure resource adequacy contracts. While it secured a number of contracts between 2005 and 2011, those contracts failed to provide the revenue needed to support Sutter’s long-term viability. As a result, in November 2011, Calpine notified the commission that it would retire Sutter in 2012.

In response, the commission ordered investor-owned utilities to negotiate a short-term contract with Calpine. Sutter, ultimately, negotiated a limited-term adequacy capacity contract with the investor-owned utilities. Those contracts ended on Dec. 31, 2012. Currently, Sutter does not have a contract and sells power to California ISO by virtue of the pseudo-tie agreement.

Calpine is not seeking a capacity procurement mechanism designation from California ISO as California ISO has determined that Sutter will not be needed for grid reliability through at least 2016. Calpine also anticipates that Sutter will not be needed in 2017. Therefore, Calpine proposes to suspend operation of Sutter and place it in cold layup.

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Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy's Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication's editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor's degree from Central Michigan University.

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