Water, energy and climate are intimately linked in California. With the right infrastructure, public water agencies are in a unique position to help advance the State’s efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and facilitate clean energy technologies. Matching clean power supplies with variable energy demands (load shaping) and the construction of an important new transmission line in a currently constrained area can help California meet its clean energy goals.

A critical electric transmission infrastructure project proposed by the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, Western Area Power Administration and Bureau of Reclamation, would help reduce reliance on fossil fuels while enabling clean energy development. The San Luis Transmission Project (SLTP) involves construction of a new 85-mile, 230,000-volt electric transmission line in the western San Joaquin Valley. SLTP can support the sustainability of the region’s water agencies by providing electric transmission for the economical and reliable delivery of water supplies to San Joaquin Valley and Bay Area residents, businesses, farms, and wildlife refuges. What’s also unique about SLTP is that it minimizes land use, cultural, and environmental conflicts by using an existing corridor and paralleling other existing lines.

The Valley is rich in natural resources and clean energy opportunities but lacks a robust transmission grid to support extensive renewable energy development. SLTP will provide access to the grid for renewable energy projects (solar, storage, and wind) within and near the Valley. The project will allow the state to tap affordable clean energy assets and opportunities and achieve its renewable energy and carbon reduction goals in the most efficient manner possible.

California’s renewable energy mandates are expanding and carbon reduction goals are increasing. Senate Bill 100, signed into law last summer, requires that 60 percent of all retail sales of electricity is supplied by eligible renewable energy by 2030, and that 100 percent is served by zero-carbon resources by 2045. In addition, Executive Order B-55-18, enacted in 2018, established a new goal for California to be carbon neutral as a state by 2045, and then maintain and reduce emissions levels in years beyond. This new goal – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 – seeks to move the state far beyond targets previously established.

The 2018 executive order requires the California Air Resources Board to work with relevant state agencies to identify and recommend measures to achieve the carbon neutrality goal. Water agencies can work to shape their load and generation to accommodate the variability of renewable energy resources and maximize their efficiency. By consuming energy when solar generation is at its peak, water agencies help use more renewable energy when its available. And by reducing their energy demands when renewable generation tapers off, they help reduce California’s reliance on fossil fuel generation that would be needed to meet their energy needs.

In addition to helping water agencies meet their water and power obligations, SLTP will help California meet its renewable energy goals by increasing access to lower cost, environmentally friendly, carbon-free resources. California’s aggressive renewable and carbon reduction goals will require significant development of renewable energy resources throughout the state. Few areas are better positioned and would benefit more from the investments needed than the San Joaquin Valley. Duke-American Transmission Company is financing the project and is seeking proposals to utilize available energy transmission capacity. This opportunity puts the region on the front lines of California’s renewable energy future.

While a great deal of planning will need to happen to ensure the state’s ambitious renewable and carbon reduction goals are met in an efficient fashion, two things are clear: public water agencies can play an important role, and new transmission access is vital. Both will be needed to achieve California’s unparalleled objective for clean energy and climate protection mandates. And SLTP, targeted to be in-service in 2023, will help meet these objectives.