A California Energy Lesson From Europe

Days before Joe Biden and former Sen. Kamala Harris took the oath of office, the Los Angeles Times said California was “emerging as the de facto policy think tank” of a Democrat-controlled Washington. This doesn’t inspire confidence in those who see up close that the best California can offer is an example of how a state should not run its business.

Government mismanagement can be instructive, though, if policymakers are willing to learn from other’s mistakes. Germany, for instance, offers a guidebook that clearly outlines the hazards of rushing toward a green-energy regime. Is Sacramento paying attention?

In the not-so-distant past, “Germany had one of the most stable and reliable power grids worldwide,” climate site NoTricksZone reported this month, because it left “the job of deciding how to best produce electricity” to engineers and experts, the “people who actually understood it.”

But today, after a government decision to “go green,” the country “finds itself on the verge of blackouts due to grid instability, has the highest electricity prices in the world, relies more on imports and is not even close to meeting its emissions targets.”

How long before California can put a check mark next to all four of those points?

Germany began to remake energy delivery roughly a decade ago through the “energiewende” movement, “a major plan for transforming the country’s energy system to make it more efficient and supplied mainly by renewable sources,” says the International Energy Agency. It “was the first country to go green,” internationally published columnist and energy consultant Ronald Stein tells PRI, followed by Australia, which “now has the second highest cost of electricity” on Earth.

California, in a rush to impress lawmakers in other blue states and the international community that regards renewable energy as a panacea for a number of ills, has made a similar commitment. When Sacramento chose to require that every watt of electricity produced in the state had to generated by renewable sources by 2045, the gesture was hailed as a “big step,” “a very, very big deal,” and “historic . . a really major step” by the right people.

Of course, much the same was said of Germany’s path to renewables. In 2015, the country was held up by National Geographic as possibly “a model for how we’ll get power in the future.” In April, its “first-ever quarter with more than 50% renewable electricity” was celebrated as a milestone.

Yet today, its “rickety and moody power grid now threatens the entire European power grid stability,” according to NoTricksZone blogger Pierre L. Gosselin.

Consequently, a how-not-to manual has written itself, and “California,” says Stein, “could really learn something from other failed attempts, if our lawmakers would only open their eyes to what’s going on around the world.”

If they did, what would they see?

  • That “the country’s largest newsweekly magazine, Der Spiegel” said the renewables program was “a botched job.”
  • That to achieve its increase from 7% renewables in 2000 to 35% in 2019, Germany had to rely on as much biomass, “which scientists view as polluting and environmentally degrading,” as it did solar, says energy and environment reporter Michael Shellenberger.
  • That, says Stein, “German households pay almost 50% more for electricity than they did in 2006.”
  • That Germany’s heavy reliance on intermittent sources such as wind and solar have caused the country’s energy supply to be increasingly insecure, according to a 2019 McKinsey & Company report.

If they were curious about the impacts of a rash green energy agenda, California policymakers would also discover that “to deal with the power grid problems, Germany’s Economics Minister Peter Altmaier presented a draft law that would allow electric utilities ‘to temporarily cut off charging power for e-cars when there is once again too little electricity available,’ an idea known as ‘peak smoothing.’ ”

This wouldn’t pair well with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order outlawing the sale of new automobiles that run on fossil fuels by 2035.

Germany’s experience shows that this state’s war on oil is a de facto war on energy, affordable energy in particular. The defeated won’t be the generals, though. Its victims will be the average Californians who will have to endure punishing energy costs, and Third World reliability until the market, not a government mandate, is able to produce renewables-based energy that is both affordable and dependable.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.


Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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