California asks Biden administration to allow gas plants to run at maximum

The skyline of San Diego, California, U.S. is shown at sunrise

(Reuters) - California's grid operator has asked the Biden administration to allow some natural gas power plants to operate without pollution restrictions for 60 days to shore up the state's tight electricity supplies, the U.S. Energy Department said on Thursday.

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which is seeking an emergency order by Sept. 10, made the ask in a Sept. 7 letter to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. The agency is reviewing the request, an official said.

The move is the latest example of California's struggle to move away from fossil fuels like natural gas that contribute to climate change. Governor Gavin Newsom this year has already loosened restrictions on diesel generators and engines, and the state's water agency is adding gas-fired power plants to boost supplies.

The state is increasingly relying on large amounts of wind and solar energy that only run when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. This year extreme drought has slashed the state's hydroelectric power capacity while wildfires threaten transmission lines that bring in power from other states.

California has said it faces a potential supply shortfall of up to 3,500 megawatts during peak demand hours. That is enough energy to power about 2.6 million homes.

CAISO on Wednesday and Thursday urged consumers to conserve energy due to soaring temperatures throughout the U.S. West.

If granted, the order would provide more than 200 MW of additional power supply by allowing natural gas units in six cities throughout the state to operate at their maximum output "notwithstanding air quality or other permit limitations," the letter said.

CAISO Chief Operating Officer Mark Rothleder acknowledged in the letter that the emergency order could result in emissions from the affected plants exceeding legal limits, but said power outages posed a greater risk to public health and safety.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Andrea Ricci)