The Big Picture Sep 10, 2020

Could a more inclusive energy plan alleviate California’s power shortages?

Renewable energy isn’t enough to meet today’s power demand

solar panels under blue sky on sunset

The intermittent energy provided by renewables such as solar is forcing millions of Californians to endure electricity blackouts, critics say.

Electricity shortages, rotating power outages and statewide Flex Alerts have recently added stress in the lives of Californians.

They’re a clear indication of an energy system that’s failing to meet the state’s increased power demand.

In its push for a clean-energy future, some say, California has prioritized renewable energy over traditional sources such as natural gas.

“These policies have demonized oil and natural gas and the people working in our industry to provide safe, affordable and reliable energy to the state,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of Western States Petroleum Association, an industry trade group.

“We’ve sacrificed reliable power in California because we’ve put all our eggs in one basket,” she added. “Renewables are fine, but they’re not enough.” 

What is needed is a complete and well-thought-out plan that delivers the energy the people of California need today, while incentivizing the change in consumer choices to bring about a lower carbon future. 

Widespread frustration

California’s August and September heat waves spurred others to point out the state’s incomplete energy policy:

  • Veteran California journalist Dan Walters criticized the state’s power troubles Aug. 19, saying warnings about the shortage were ignored by energy officials. California’s power supply problem “stems largely from political policies aimed at phasing out hydrocarbon energy, such as natural gas-powered generators, shutting down nuclear plants and relying more on ‘renewables’ such as solar panels and windmills,” Walters wrote in a commentary in Cal Matters.

“It’s unacceptable that a state with a world-class economy grounded in cutting-edge technology has the unreliable electrical service of a third world country.”

“It’s unacceptable that a state with a world-class economy grounded in cutting-edge technology has the unreliable electrical service of a third world country,” he noted.

  • The California Farm Bureau Federation has raised similar concerns over the energy shortfall, saying it comes as no surprise to those following the evolution of renewable energy mandates.

“For more than a decade, Farm Bureau has raised concerns that the renewable-energy policies implemented by the Legislature, California Energy Commission, Public Utilities Commission and Air Resources Board have set the stage for unreliable electrical service,” wrote CFBF’s Robert Spiegel and Karen Norene Mills in the Aug. 26, 2020 issue of its Ag Alert publication. “The reality is the blackouts were foreseeable.

“These blackouts should reinforce discussions for a balanced portfolio of energy generation,” they added.

  • The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board put it even more bluntly. Beneath the headline of its Aug. 16 opinion piece, “California’s blackout warning,” the newspaper declared that “anti-fossil fuel mandates are leading to electricity shortages.”
Overview of California State Capitol Building

The Wall Street Journal says California’s “anti-fossil fuel mandates are leading to electricity shortages.”

“California last experienced rolling blackouts in 2001 amid energy market manipulation by speculators,” said the editorial. “This time the cause is energy market manipulation by anti-fossil fuel politicians. Democrats have mandated that renewables account for 60% of state electricity by 2030, which has forced power providers to invest in renewable energy sources now to meet the deadline.”

But the intermittent energy provided by renewables is forcing millions of Californians to endure electricity blackouts. “Their plight is a warning to the rest of America about the risks of Green New Deal policies,” the board noted.

Include oil and gas in the energy solution

California can alleviate the pressure on its power grid by recognizing “the role of oil and natural gas in our energy future,” Reheis-Boyd told 23ABC News Bakersfield on Aug. 19.

And that can start by including the oil and gas industry in the energy policy discussion, she said.

The industry has been investing in the technologies to run operations in a less carbon-intensive way while supporting the needs of California. “We are the innovators, creators, problem-solvers” that moved this country from horse-and-buggy transport “to the quality of life and upward mobility” Californians enjoy today, Reheis-Boyd said.

“The problem is we don’t have an inclusive conversation in this state on how to meet [its energy] needs in a practical way based on facts and science,” she said. “This a conversation long overdue. We’ve got to be at the table, not talking against each other but with each other.”

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