California sits on the cutting edge of converting from traditional energy sources to new, but the pace of that transition must recognize the real world capacity to maintain adequate, cost-effective energy supply and economic activity. A test of keeping the lights on when dealing with environmental questions will play out in the follow up to the damaging gas leak at the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles.

The methane gas leak at the Aliso Canyon facility above Porter Ranch has been plugged, but the repercussions on the state’s energy situation will have a lingering effect. Last week, the California Independent System Operator warned that power companies may not be able to keep up with periods of high consumer demand because the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility is closed until inspections are completed. Power needed to create electricity likely will be wanting at times leading to potential blackouts on hot days that would disrupt power requirements for residents and businesses.

Beyond a temporary disruption of power due to lack of natural gas, some local residents and officials have advocated closing the facility permanently.

Under SB 380, authored by Senator Fran Pavley, the wells and storage areas at the Aliso Canyon facility must pass a number of inspections before wells are re-opened. Wells that fail the inspection will be taken off-line until fixed.

The bill also requires that the Public Utilities Commission “open a proceeding to determine the feasibility of minimizing or eliminating use of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility located in the County of Los Angeles while still maintaining energy and electric reliability for the region….”

Maintaining energy reliability by cutting off the largest natural gas facility in the western United States will be quite the trick, yet political pressure is being applied to make that happen. A member of the Save Porter Ranch community group told a local civic organization last week that the facility should be shut down completely. She argued that a gas storage facility in near-by Santa Clarita could be used to store natural gas while more gas could be imported from Mexico.

However, neither solution is adequate. The Santa Clarita site is only one-fourth the size of Aliso Canyon, she admitted, and transporting the gas comes with its own set of problems.

Meanwhile, at a debate of the six leading candidates for the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors Fifth District, which covers Porter Ranch, the contestants were asked for a simple Yes or No answer: Should the Aliso Canyon facility be closed? Five of the six answered yes. Only state Senator Bob Huff said no.

Back in February I wrote on this page about the issue of closing down Aliso Canyon: Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander, whose district encompasses Porter Ranch, confronted the tricky question of shutting down the facility at one of the many citizen meetings he set up in the community. Englander said he believed in the “Shut It All Down” theme, but he asked the follow-up question: “Then what?”

It’s an appropriate query. While guaranteeing the safety of the Porter Ranch and neighboring communities is paramount, officials also have to be concerned about Southern California’s energy needs.

Englander said that Porter Ranch residents had to face “a reality check, part of which we are not comfortable with. This facility supplies 22 million customers in 11 different counties. This is beyond an umbilical cord.”

I concluded at the time: The more difficult decision for politicians will come if the local citizenry insists on closing the reserve while millions of others in Southern California watch and wonder how a “Shut It All Down” decision would affect them.

That confrontational era is approaching.

If the political pressure builds to keep Aliso Canyon closed and rolling blackouts occur, Californians will come face to face with the tension of energy conversion, environmental concerns, and adequate power that will soon confront more Californians. If blackouts occur expect a backlash from those affected.