Moonbeams Over California: The 33-percent Non-solution
California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed SB 2x by Joe Simitian, mandating that 33 percent of the state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2020, an increase of 13 percent from the previous mandate of 20 percent. This signals bad news for California but reveals a key dynamic of our ruling class.
“It’s about California leading the country,” Governor Brown told reporters at the signing ceremony. “It’s America potentially leading the world.”
At the same event, Senator Simitian, a Palo Alto Democrat, said that his new law “will stimulate the economy and improve the environment, while protecting ratepayers from excessive costs.”
Not to be outdone, lobbyist Bernadette Del Chiaro of Environment California hailed the measure as a huge victory for the environment and made this statement:
“California can power itself entirely on clean energy resources like wind, geothermal and solar power,” she said. Actually, California can’t do that.
In fact, California has never been able to create enough electricity to meet its needs. The state now buys 20 to 30 percent of its energy from out-of-state sources. As for in-state “renewable” sources, they have problems of their own.
Solar and wind need huge amounts of land and materials and, unlike conventional energy, the generating plants have to be located at the source. This makes for high transmission costs. Further, the wind does not always blow strong and the sun does not always shine with sufficient intensity.
This means renewables are also unreliable and must have conventional backup — unless blackouts are acceptable to the masses. Wind and solar power are also two to four times as costly as conventional power, according to estimates from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Worse, they also face environmental and political problems.
For solar energy California enjoys a competitive advantage in the Mojave desert, consistently hot and not all that far from the major population center of Los Angeles. California Senator Dianne Feinstein, unfortunately, is the author of legislation taking off the table a million acres of the best solar land in the world. Feinstein wants to create the Mojave Trails National Monument on 941,000 acres of public land, which would block major wind and solar projects.
According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the outlook for widespread solar production on public lands is dim. Wind projects draw objections on aesthetic grounds, and from environmental activists who claim windmills kill too many birds.
For these and other reasons, California cannot power itself entirely on wind, geothermal and solar power. The 33 percent mandate is not about California leading the world, as the governor said, and not about stimulating the economy, improving the environment, or protecting Californians from excessive costs. But the proceedings did reveal a crucial dynamic.
At the signing, the Governor Brown said, “I didn’t get my name ‘Governor Moonbeam’ for nothing.” He actually got it in the 1970s for suggesting that California launch its own space program. Now it appears to signify an aversion to reality. Ruling-class politicians champion policy they know is unrealistic but which they believe will bolster their legacy.
By 2020 Brown, and likely Simitian, will be out of office and living well on government largesse. By 2020, the fallout of the legislation — high energy prices, blackouts, a weak economy — will be all too real to most Californians.