By Larry Bell
Brief evening power blackouts that rolled across California cities and towns during an August 13-14 heat wave offer a warning glimpse of much more dire consequences we can absolutely count on occurring with enactment of the Biden campaign’s “Build Back Better” proposal to immediately eliminate fracking on all public lands, and virtually eliminate fossil-fueled power plants over the next 15 years.
In concert with the aspirational Green New Deal co-sponsored by his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., the plan calls for humongous expenditures in renewable energy, including installing 500 million solar panels and manufacturing 60,000 wind turbines.
Add to this that Biden proposes to have taxpayers finance a half-million electric car chargers all across America along with funding to help car makers convert their factories to electric vehicle (EV) production.
This, of course, will shift even greater energy demand from petroleum to the electrical power sector. Producing and recharging those EVs will require that sufficient energy be constantly available when the wind isn’t blowing and sunlight isn’t available.
That wasn’t the case on the evenings of Aug. 13 and 14 when the California Independent System Operator (Caiso), which manages the state’s power grid, declared a high-level emergency and ordered utilities to reduce power usage as demand outstripped supplies.
Although both orders were short-lived, the emergency measures exposed just how thin the grid’s margin for error had become.
PG&E, California’s largest utility, said the outages affected about 220,000 customers each night. Two other utilities, Edison International’s Southern California Edison and Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas & Electric, urged their customers to reduce power use but had fewer affected.
The August rolling blackouts were different from widespread intentional pre-emptive power shut-offs that left large populations in the dark last fall which PG&E and Southern California Edison each initiated when strong winds increased the risk of power lines sparking wildfires.
This emergency, and others certain to follow, are entirely avoidable as a Green New Deal harbinger of ill-wind to other states.
After all, most of the southwestern U.S. experienced the same heat wave, but managed to keep full power flowing.
Why couldn’t California manage to do the same?
The short answer is “politics.”
California Democrats have mandated that renewables account for 60% of state electricity by 2030, which has forced power providers to cut back on fossil fuel use and dramatically ramp up investments in intermittent “renewable”sources to meet that deadline.
In doing so, the state has almost eliminated coal-fired generation and has been reducing reliance on natural gas and nuclear power in favor of solar farms and, to a lesser extent, wind power, which now supply more than a third of its “typical” power needs.
But conditions aren’t always typical, and California energy policies are causing them to be increasingly less so.
During peak daylight hours California produces a surplus of solar energy, whereby power generators may be ordered or paid to cut back their production so the electric grid isn’t overloaded.
In fact during the August emergency Caiso reported that about 1,000 mega-watt hours (MWh) were curtailed — enough to power 30,000 homes.
About 1.3 million MWh of daytime power have been curtailed this year.
Evenings are a different matter entirely — times when solar energy plunges but power demand remains high. And that’s what happened in August as residents across the state were blasting their air-conditioning units while sheltering from the coronavirus at home.
Under “typical” circumstances, California has historically relied heavily during shortfalls on power imported from neighboring states as well as natural gas-fired plants capable of starting up quickly when needed. This time, however, neighboring Western states were also realizing rises in usage due to extreme heat, with less excess electricity to spare.
Meanwhile, state water regulations are also forcing the shutdown of natural gas-fired “peaker” plants along the coast that can quickly ramp up generation when the sun goes down. As a result, California’s Public Utilities Commission warned last year that the state could face an energy shortage as early as 2021 on hot summer evenings. They beat that forecast by a year.
Nevertheless, Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom cluelessly blamed the state’s grid operator and utility regulator in a letter for “failure to predict these shortages is unacceptable particularly given our state’s work to combat climate change.”
The charge added, “These blackouts, which occurred without prior warning or enough time for preparation, are unacceptable and unbefitting the nation’s largest and most innovative state.”
Tod Snitchler, chief executive of the Electric Power Supply Association, projects that “California, in many ways, is the canary in the coal mine. His trade group, representing power producers nationwide, urges, “Many of the natural gas units that some in California would like to see go away have been exactly what’s needed to keep the system operating.”
But that opportunity window appears to be closing as many natural gas and nuclear plants needed for 24/7 power have shut down in recent years because they can’t compete with heavily subsidized green energy.
A 10-year-old natural gas power plant in California’s Inland Empire is being decommissioned this year — 20 to 30 years earlier than its planned lifespan.
While they can still get it, Californians already pay twice as much for electricity as Washingtonians and a third more than Nevadans.
Now their Sacramento Democratic leaders wish to share their overheated policy pain nationwide via a Joe Biden/Kamala Harris administration.
Before we allow that, take a close look at the condition of that canary in the abandoned California coal mine.
There certainly isn’t much Democratic Party future to chirp about.