Power Outages: California, Texas, next the U.S?

California was the object of ridicule last year when residents experienced widespread power outages due to high temperatures and wildfires.  Now, during an historic cold spell, Texas is under fire for an energy infrastructure that left much of the state without power.

The finger pointing will go on for months in Texas, just as it did (and still does) in California.  AOC was among the first, blaming state lawmakers for not pursuing Green New Deal policies.  She and other progressives were probably still smarting from comments made by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who made fun of California for not being able to “perform even the basic functions of civilization, like having reliable electricity.”

But you don’t have to be a civil engineer – much less a politician — to know that the more power options we have to choose from, the better off we’ll all be.

Take Texas. The snowstorm froze gas wells and windmills alike, but it was unable to tap into the energy grid of neighboring states because the Lone Star State relies almost entirely on its own energy grid.

California also suffered from a lack of power diversity. During its heatwave in August, the high demand for air conditioning forced rolling blackouts across the state.  Moreover, the threat of electricity-sparked wildfires made it unsafe for PG&E to operate in areas around Northern California and the Central Valley.   And to pile on more misery, the state couldn’t rely on its renewable energy sources – solar and wind – to step up.

The irony is that for more than a decade now, California’s progressive lawmakers have made it their mission to increase solar energy and wind power to the state’s power source mix.  PRI senior fellow Wayne Winegarden, in his study “Legislating Energy Prosperity,” points out that in 2007, solar energy comprised of 0.3 percent, while wind was at 2.3 percent.  By 2018, solar increased to 11.7 percent of the state’s power source, while wind grew to 6.3 percent.  All this was at the expense of other power sources.  For example, nuclear energy fell from 16.6 percent to 9.2 percent. The state’s last remaining nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, is set to close in 2025.

The sunsetting of the state’s nuclear power plants is why Winegarden believes that despite the state’s green policies, emission declines in California have not exceeded the average declines in the rest of the country.  From 2007 to 2016, California’s carbon intensity declined by 3.8 percent, while states who did not participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (mostly Northeastern states), declined 9.7 percent.  States in the RGGI saw their carbon intensity fall by 10.4 percent.  Extinguishing one of the state’s most reliable and cleanest energy source – nuclear energy – reduced any gains it might have made, to say nothing of the economic cost to low-income Californians who have been subjected to higher energy costs due to greater reliance on renewables.

Diversifying the U.S.’s sources of energy – including its most reliable forms such as coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy – will provide us consistent, inexpensive energy to fuel growth after the pandemic and beyond. Unfortunately, the Biden administration seems to be following California’s lead.  If Pres. Biden gets his way, we will see outages like we’ve seen in California and Texas throughout the country.

Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of 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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