California was hit last month with rolling blackouts, for the first in nearly two decades. Gov. Gavin Newsom says he knows why. His answer is not politically popular. But it is correct.
According to Politico, “the exact root” of the trouble “is still unclear as more power outages loom.” Unclear, that is, to those who do not want to see it.
California might be the only place on Earth that celebrates the loss of energy production. In recent years, one nuclear plant and three natural gas facilities have been shut down. The only nuclear energy site that remains is the Diablo Canyon Power Plant in San Obispo County, which provides 9 percent of the state’s electricity but is scheduled to fully close in 2025 at a cost to consumers. As many as four gas plants, in Alamitos, Huntington Beach, Redondo Beach, and Ormond Beach, could go offline in the next few years. Three others are already set to expire, one in 2024, the others in 2029. That’s a mountain of lost energy that has to be replaced.
Lawmakers have forced California onto a sidetrack that ends with all electricity produced in the state generated by renewable sources by 2045. Despite their assurances, no one can definitively say the green regime will meet the growing need. But the heatwave, in which the unreliability of renewables pushed the system to the edge, shows that future summers might be as dark as they are hot.
Newsom is as green as the next Democrat. But he recently said that California has to “sober up to the reality that in this transition we’re going to have to do more and be much more mindful in terms of our capacity to provide backup and insurance.”
The California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid, made a similar observation. “For many years we have pointed out,” president and CEO Steve Berberich says, “that there was inadequate power available” after the sun sets because the production of solar energy, which produces roughly one-fifth of the electricity in California, stops.
The California Public Utilities Commission has also expressed concern. Green Tech Media has reported that PUC regulators “decided last fall that this combination of firm capacity retirements, uncertainty of imports and increasing renewable production would generate capacity shortfalls.”
Despite green energy’s obvious flaws, the officials who drive policy aren’t suggesting the state suspend or even slow the effort to make California entirely reliant on weather-dependent renewables. What we are hearing instead are their exhortations to just “do better.”
Part of “doing better” means developing batteries that can store enormous amounts of energy that’s produced when the sun shines and the wind blows. But according to Utility Dive, the energy industry doesn’t appear to be “bullish about the prospects of grid-scale battery storage over the next decade.” Simply demanding a breakthrough is useless.
“Doing better” according to the green orthodoxy also means more windmills and more solar panels. Is this a tradeoff renewables advocates, whom we assume are also conservationists, want to make? Because wind and solar are voracious consumers of land. Those spinning sails and photovoltaic modules need 90 to 100 times more space than natural gas plants to produce the same amount of energy, says Phys.org.
And if California is to reach just 80 percent renewables by 2050, five years later than the current time frame to reach 100 percent, as much as one acre of every 10 across the state, says ScienceDirect, would be surrendered to wind and solar farms, and hydropower, which the green movement doesn’t want to be listed as a renewable energy source.
Of course, California can continue to import power from other states. But, says energy consultant Ronald Stein, that requires “high-priced electricity from the Southwest and Northwest” as well as “hopes that other states will have that extra capacity to add to the grid.”
That is no solution, though, especially if those states follow California’s green energy policies. Then they would be doing well just to meet their own demand.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.