Fears that air pollution from oil and gas-fired electric generation would surge in California this past summer never materialized, state officials said.

Nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions — the most significant pollutant emitted from state power plants and a precursor to ozone formation — actually declined 24% between June and August 2001, compared to the same period in 2000, according to findings of the California Air Resources Board.

With California facing the potential of electricity shortages in 2001, older units were expected to be called into service. Many businesses prepared for the worst, bringing in emergency diesel generation for use in the event of blackouts. The California Independent System Operator warned the state could be facing a shortage of 600-3,700 Mw of electricity last summer.

But the energy crisis never materialized and the backup generators were never called into service, the California Energy Commission (CEC) noted in a new report. In addition, pollution control retrofits were completed at 17 power plants, representing 5,000 Mw of generating capacity, and resulting in NOx emissions reductions of 80-90%.

Energy conservation and new state-of-the- art plants also helped avert the predicted outages. Eleven new plants representing 2,537 Mw with new emission controls reduced the need to rely on old inefficient plants by summer’s end, the CEC said. Peak reduction last summer reached a record high of 5,570 Mw June 21, the agency said.

Electrical demand for the summer peaked at 48,597 Mw Aug. 27, about what the ISO projected, compared to the summer 2000 peak demand of 44,000 Mw on Aug. 16. The CEC is projecting a peak demand of 57,691 Mw, including 3,3443 Mw of operating reserves, this summer.

Some 3,749 Mw of new simple and combined cycle generation are under construction and expected to be operating by summer, the CEC said, helping to balance energy supply and demand. But the agency warned some areas of the state, especially northern California, don’t have sufficient generation to meet desired reliability criteria.

Conservation measures will continue to be an important part of the state’s energy mix, it said. The CEC recommended continued funding for energy efficiency and demand response programs. It called for, among other things, modification of a $35 million real-time metering program to ensure commercial and industrial customers participate.