Californians narrowly averted rolling blackouts on Tuesday, but the threat looms all week amid an unpleasant but not unusual heat wave. This ought to be a warning about how the government force-fed green energy transition is endangering grid reliability, but Democrats and the media can’t break out of their climate-change conformity to think clearly, or think at all.
Democrats blame climate change for the state’s week-long warnings to conserve power, but California’s climate hasn’t suddenly changed. Triple-digit temperatures aren’t unprecedented even in early September, despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s claims. What has drastically changed in recent years is California’s electric generation.
Solar and wind power have rapidly expanded thanks to rich government subsidies along with the state’s renewables mandate. These have made it harder for baseload gas and nuclear generators that run around the clock to make money. Many have shut down, and the result is that the state often lacks sufficient power when the sun goes down.
California’s summer electric generation capacity increased by about 10,700 megawatts (MW) between 2010 and 2020—potentially enough to power eight to 10 million homes. The problem is that gas-fired capacity during this time declined by 4,390 MW and nuclear by 2,150 MW. Solar and wind surged 17,000 MW, but those sources can’t be commanded to run when people need them.
The state must therefore rely on imports from other states in the evenings, especially during heat waves. But these imports are becoming less dependable since California’s neighbors are also losing base-load generators owing to their own renewable buildouts. Arizona lost about half of its summer coal-generating capacity between 2015 and 2020.
During heat waves that span the Southwest like the one this week, California must resort to emergency measures to reduce electricity demand. This includes asking users to turn up their thermostats and providing incentives for industrial businesses to power down. A desalination plant in Carlsbad cut water production by about 20% earlier this week to free up power for homes. Not what the state needs during a drought.
The climate left blames drought for causing a reduction in the state’s hydropower, but why didn’t lawmakers and grid managers prepare for such a scenario? Drought conditions aren’t uncommon in the state. The truth is that politicians put too much faith in utility-scale batteries to save the day, but these are expensive and have been hard to scale.
Irony of ironies, the state has installed temporary gas-fired generators to run during grid emergencies. In other words, the state that is working so hard to banish fossil fuels has become more dependent on them. Los Angeles’s municipal utility is generating nearly 30% of its electricity from coal, some of which is being shared with the rest of the state. Call it Gavin Newsom’s dirty little climate secret.
Meantime, power shortages are causing prices to spike in the Golden State as they are in Europe. Electricity prices in California’s wholesale market surged Tuesday evening to about $1,700 per MWh compared to the normal $100 and $67 a year ago. All of this explains why residential electric rates in California have risen by 50% in the past two years—three times more than they have nationwide.
Californians paid on average about 29 cents per kilowatt hour in June, by far the most in the continental U.S. and twice as much as in neighboring states. Rates are only going higher. Green-energy subsidies don’t make electricity cheaper. They create market distortions that threaten the grid and raise prices.
But what starts in California rarely stays in California. Americans everywhere will soon be soaked with higher prices for power that is becoming less reliable. Rhode Island Energy this summer asked regulators to more than double current electric rates for this winter. Falling gasoline prices for many Americans could be fully offset by rising electricity costs.
The grid problems that Californians are enduring will grow and spread as supersized green-energy subsidies and mandates spread their harmful incentives throughput the U.S. economy in coming years. The culprit is the left’s climate policies, not climate change.