No Minister

California Screaming – an energy desert

with 17 comments

From the 1930’s to the 1970’s California made huge plans for its future, building large numbers of power stations and the transmission grid to link them, bridges and expressways for transport, and dams, canals, and aqueducts as part of a vast system to bring water from the snowy mountains of the Sierra Nevadas to the desert of the Central Valley and the coastal cities.

It was a golden era and it was planned for 25 million people. As the 1970’s rolled around new plans for further development were made in all these areas, for a 21st century population of 40 million or more.

And then in the 1970’s it all came grinding to a halt as the newborn environmental movement cranked up, with California seeing itself as the leader, starting with Jerry Brown, the son of the legendary California Governor, Pat Brown. While Pat became known as “The Builder of California”, his son stopped almost every project in its tracks in his first term as Governor after Ronald Reagan, serving from 1975 to 1983. Legendary Chicago journalist Mike Royko labeled Brown “Governor Moonbeam” and it stuck. There is no sign that he has ever regretted his earlier decisions.

There’s plenty of evidence that the rest of California is, although that has not yet shown up in the voting, with heavier totals for the Democrat Party than ever. Just like its two most famous cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, the state has slowly stumbled into a miasma of failure, almost entirely due to the complete domination of the Democrat Party and the resulting unconstrained implementation of some of the Left’s most insane ideas of how to run a society. Even in the areas of energy.

Recently Governor Newsom ordered CARB (California Air Resources Board) to implement the phaseout of new gas powered cars and light trucks by 2035, barely 14 years from now. He also called on the state legislature to ban fracking. Meanwhile California, which has always had its own oil and gas fields, but which now is steadily banning the exploitation of them, increased its crude oil imports from foreign countries from 5% in 1992 to 57% in 2018.

In addition, the problems with electricity in the state have resulted in memes like this one, which are a direct result of similar government control in the area of power production.

In 2006 the state passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (or Assembly Bill 32), which mandated state-wide reduction of GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a 30% reduction statewide, with mandatory caps beginning in 2012 for significant emissions sources. As part of this the aim was to get “renewables” (excluding hydro) to 33% by 2020. Spinoffs of this legislation created retail and corporate tax and pricing incentives to push that move.

It worked within its narrow field of vision, with solar rising from almost nothing to 14% of capacity and wind to 7% by 2018. Some 170,000 distributed solar systems are now hooked into the state’s grid. Excited by this success AB 32 was pushed further in 2015 with legislation known as SB 350 that requires California to generate 50 percent of its electricity from “renewables” by 2050 – with emissions-free nuclear power not eligible for inclusion. The latter hardly matters since the only remaining nuclear power plant in the state, Diablo Canyon, is slated to close by 2022 anyway despite having decades of life remaining. In August 2018, California passed a mandate to have 100% carbon-free electricity generation by 2045. Strangely, hydroelectric facilities greater than 30 megawatts don’t qualify as renewable under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard requirement. Both large and small hydro generation in California have plummeted over 60% in recent years.

But as exciting as these renewable numbers may be there are also negative consequences arising from the “success”. Since wind and solar power are non-dispatchable – meaning they can’t produce power when it’s demanded – there are unusual factors to consider:

  • Baseload power generators like coal-fired, gas-fired, hydro and nuclear can fill the supply gap, but it means they have to be idling away in the background all the time and they have to be able to crank up fast, which they’re not designed to do. Still, having such power is better than nothing when the wind drops and the sun goes down and their marginal running costs are very low.
  • But of course such stations are being shut-down so California has to reach out for alternative supplies.
  • One of those are “peaker” plants, natural-gas-fired units that can fire up in minutes. These have high marginal running costs.
  • Another source is imported electricity from other states.
  • The huge surges in power from solar and wind place additional stress on the transmission network that was designed for baseload, and these surges almost always occur when the power is not needed, meaning the power has to be given away for free – assuming anybody else wants it – or the sources have to disconnected from the grid, both of which screw the profits of solar and wind producers.

And the results of these factors are the following.

First, California was the largest net electricity importer of any state in 2019

Second, because the peak hours for electricity use are from 4pm to 7pm when solar and wind are the least available the gas peakers have to ramp up, which of course pushes the costs higher even before subsidies or price support for solar/wind is taken into account. (Incidentally this is called the Duck Curve because the time demand energy use profile looks like the silhouette of a duck.)

Good times for natural gas and also the reason why so many fossil fuel outfits are right behind the renewable energy push. The fewer baseload power supplies that exist the more gas-fired peaker plants needed. This is the Achilles Heel of the “carbon-free electricity” goal.

Third, the inevitable result is that electricity prices have increased faster in California than in the rest of the USA and it now has the highest average electricity rates of the lower 48 states—nearly twice as high as the national average (18.64 versus 11.10 cents per kilowatt hour), and even almost twice as high as nearby Oregon and Washington.

Fourth, this electricity is not only expensive but unreliable as the Duck curve grows greater and increases the cost pressure via gas-fired peaker generation, renewable subsidies and the grid. By 2014 California easily led the nation with nearly 470 power outages a year (compared to 160 for second place Texas, which is really amazing because Texas produces 125% more electricity). They’ve only grown worse since then as the outages become deliberate actions taken to save the system.

Things have got so bad that the Babylon Bee produced a mocking headline, Texas Luring Jobs Away From California With Promises Of Electricity, based on actual arguments being put to California businesses by Texas officials. The joke has rebounded in just the last few days as Texas has suffered rolling power outages – with wind power (23% of Texas supply) again at the heart of the problem.

Fifth, despite all the subsidies and price support, the solar/wind movement continues to struggle financially, with the Tonopah solar station filing for bankruptcy, even though it was being paid $139 per megawatt-hour, five times that of other solar producers, and the Ivanpah solar station being classed as GHG emitter because it’s been forced to use natural gas to run, again despite being paid four to five times as much per megawatt-hour as natural-gas powered plants.

Sixth, none of this flood of subsidies has improved the grid, let alone turned it into the “Smart Grid” needed to support renewable energy. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave the nation’s power infrastructure a grade of D+. Some elements of the interconnected transmission and distribution systems, including 400,000 miles of electric lines, date to the World War II era, and even the 1880s. But when the power utilities in the state requested modest rate increases to pay for such maintenance, the California Public Utilities Commission refused – because nothing says private sector than only be able to charge what the government allows you to. Undoubtedly one of the reasons for the refusal was the already sky-high price of power in the state.

You too can have a decrepit grid like this when you pay twice the national average for electricity that doesn’t work when you need it. The utilities might as well be government-owned, except the government is terrified of the ensuing responsibility, which involves….

Seventh, wildfires. This, in 2020, was the latest reason for the rolling blackouts. In 2018 one of the worst wildfires in the state’s history, the Camp Fire, killed 85 people and the cause was ultimately traced to a steel hook on a PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric) transmission tower that broke in windy conditions, causing sparks. Within a couple of months PG&E filed for bankruptcy as it faced lawsuits totalling $30billion, ultimately paying out about $13 billion.

In 2020, lacking the money to upgrade the transmission grid and with no other options, the company simply started switching off large chunks of the system. The state government could not force them to do otherwise without becoming a party to any wildfire lawsuits.

The following cartoon is therefore entirely appropriate, and California’s increasing problems with fire will be the focus of the next post, for it is not just the decrepit power grid that is a factor in them but more wonderful “environmental” ideas.

Written by Tom Hunter

February 23, 2021 at 6:00 am

17 Responses

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  1. Well done Tom, another well researched and very readable post.


    February 23, 2021 at 8:19 am

  2. Reblogged this on Utopia, you are standing in it!.

    Jim Rose

    February 23, 2021 at 8:37 am

  3. Tom,

    Yet another comment that suggests that nothing should be done about global warming. Basically you advocate no shift to low emissions power generation. Just as you have done with Texas.

    I recall Los Angles in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I was visiting quite a lot back them. Thick smog everywhere. Nowadays it is basically blue skies. That didn’t happen by accident. It took a huge amount of regulation and innovation.


    February 24, 2021 at 6:55 am

    • Do you really believe that politicians can control the future trajectory of the Earth’s atmospheric processes though policies they have dreamed up Dr Mapp?

      And even if it were possible to in some way to control the future weather patterns that govern the climate who do you think is qualified to dictate what the optimal solution is for the planet.

      Would you like it if Vladimir Putin had his hands on the global “thermostat” or would Joe Biden meet with your approval?

      I see that epitome of moral integrity John Kerry is flying around in his private jet, during an “pandemic™” no less. telling us all we have only nine years to save the planet, which means hair shirts for me and mine but not for him apparently.

      The Climate Change scam is chinless upper middle class twittery at its finest – a issue of in the drawing rooms of over indulged, unimaginative drones, illiterate in real science who have had everything in life handed to them on a plate and no real comprehension of where their lives of unprecidented ease, comfort and security come from

      Seimans makes a fortune from this of course, they can sell you one hundred wind turbines or one gas turbine

      The gas turbine is the better engineering solution, it can be spun up or down according to demand the wind turbines the most profitable, though they operate according to the whims of mother nature, without regard to the concurrent human requirements for their electricity

      As for the future, that is indeterminate and unpredictable.- which is why things like the Texan ice storm or the Christchurch Earthquake come along an upend peoples lives


      February 24, 2021 at 8:42 am

  4. Andrei
    The political system can certainly require/incentivise technologies that reduce CO2 emissions. And virtually all developed countries are doing that.
    I accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that increased CO2 in the atmosphere causes global warming and climate change. And I also accept that requires society to reduce emissions.
    Now this is not some crazy left wing off the wall idea as some commenters here seem to think.
    It has pretty much universal buy in virtually all countries. Many developed nations, whether they have left or right wing governments, are doing quite a lot about it.
    Probably at the moment the most notable is the UK. No new ICE cars after 2032, massive construction of zero emission power generation plants being mostly offshore wind farms. The new ones in Dogger Bank are truly enormous, taller than the Effiel Tower. The UK is also building new nuclear plants for base load.
    The big step up in wind farms should give Tom a new chance to say how crazy that is.


    February 24, 2021 at 9:19 am

    • Since when did the political/ruling class forgo the opportunity to exercise more control over the great unwashed or cease to find new excuses to tax them Dr Mapp? That is why this post Christian belief is so popular in the drawing rooms of the parasite classes, another opportunity to divert money and power from the productive people to themselves.

      Why do you accept “the overwhelming scientific evidence that increased CO2 in the atmosphere causes global warming and climate change.”?

      That is because it is the accepted wisdom of the people you cohort with and it suits their agendas, not because it is factual or that the evidence is “overwhelming”

      The “climate” is in a constant state of flux Dr Mapp and has been since the planet formed 4 billion years ago and if you think that self serving mediocrities like John Kerry can actually change its future trajectory and to do so in a manner the benefits all of mankind you are seriously deluded – this whole thing is about putting ordinary people back in their place and funneling money to special interests

      Its a power grab – short and simple


      February 24, 2021 at 10:11 am

    • I accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that increased CO2 in the atmosphere causes global warming and climate change.

      But, is there a real, empirical evidence that this is what’s happening? Or just an “evidence” obtained from computer models?


      February 24, 2021 at 11:25 am

  5. Wayne I would love you to produce just one piece of your overwhelming evidence that CO2 causes global warming, and the insanely inaccurate modeling does not cut it.Over 95% of the CO2 in the atmosphere is natural, so less than 5% is so called man made. CO2 is the Gas of Life, without it,the world is just a dirty brown rock hurling around in space with no life at all.Humans each breathe out 1Kilogram of CO2
    every 24hours, is that the next thing you lot want to do, cull the human race?.
    All the great advances in civilization have taken place during warm periods,some a lot warmer than today. So sit back and enjoy it,because it is the cold that is coming along with its famines and wars.

    denis wing

    February 24, 2021 at 9:57 am

  6. Ha, snap. When I first read this post yesterday I was going to comment that surely it wouldn’t be too long before Wayneo (…he of the 3 degrees, yes three!! no less) would be along to sprinkle some watermelon sugar on Tom’s parade….started typing but then I couldn’t be arsed. And waddya know, take a peak today and sure enough he’s been through already and dumped a load all over the floor, so here goes……

    I originally ascribed his know-all fuckwittery to some variant of dunning-kruger (not being a psychologist of course….my degrees are in the physical sciences), but I see now its not actually a thing:

    So maybe it is a type of anosognosia or something similar? Whatever it is, he does himself and the party he formerly represented no favors with his inane commentary both here and at DPFs place.

    Maybe it should be noted to him in the kindest possible way that all he is doing is reinforcing the stereotype that there is effectively no difference between the red and blue teams (same socialism, just a little slower with blue) and that confirming his membership of NZs version of ‘the swamp’ isn’t going to win too many converts from the disaffected.


    February 24, 2021 at 3:00 pm

  7. I read quite a lot on the science of climate change. Not just blogs but science publications (Scientific America, New Scientist being the main ones, with the former being more authoritative). There is a huge amount of data, from temperature measurements, seasonal changes, ice loss, more weather unpredictability (just as the models suggest). Not so much on seal level rise, which remains unclear.

    So yes, I am satisfied that there is a real change, and that it is following the increase in CO2 levels.


    February 24, 2021 at 4:26 pm

    • Wayne – Scientific American gave up being scientific or authoritative long ago. It is now just a thinly disguised advocacy pamphlet. Even the journals are nowadays rubbish. They publish what will get readers, not what is new or even correct. Websites like Retraction Watch which keeps to a very narrow field, is kept very busy detailing the problems that are endemic. Too many researchers chasing grant funding and peer review not worthy of the name. Unfortunately, the only info of value is a few websites run by retired academics but they are on very specific subjects.
      With regards models, they don’t predict anything. Or more to the point, they predict everything. There is a list around somewhere of what serious people have predicted climate change does. For a while, earthquakes were getting top billing. And that was Scientific American
      Talk to people who do hardcore modelling work like FEA about the climate models and their fudges around simple stuff like clouds. They are very scathing.
      Even data is garbage. People mistake resolution for accuracy. For example, the accuracy of sealevel data from the laser time paths is about plus or minus a metre. How do they get 3mm a year sea level rise? By Bayesian statistics which is corrupted from the start with the assumptions – the priors.

      Chris Morris

      February 24, 2021 at 5:40 pm

    • “I read quite a lot on the science of climate change. Not just blogs but science publications (Scientific America, New Scientist being the main ones, with the former being more authoritative)”

      Those are popular science periodicals and are not authoritive. Wayne. They are good magazines I read them in my youth along with Popular Mechanics – they help foster an interest in scientific and technical matters but they don’t take a deep dive into the technical matters, the non linear differential equations that might approximately describe the climate systems that govern life on earth would cause most of their reader’s eyes to glaze over

      And they also follow the old journalistic maxim, “if it bleeds it leads” and the requirement of any published articles in such periodicals is that they must hold the readers interest, and scary scenarios are sexy in a way that tensor calculus isn’t

      The weather systems we experience in our daily life are the result of complex interations between the atmosphere, the land and the oceans differentially heated by solar radiation, with more energy falling on regions in the lower latitudes Than the higher – technically speaking these processes are non deterrministic dynamiic systems .and essentially unpredictable except in the very short term.

      On February the 1st nobody had predicted the cold snap that hit Texas,. in fact no storm warning was issued until after it had begun!

      The nature of the beast is that the future cannot be predicted except in highly constrained and restricted circumstances, which makes engineeing and technolgy possible

      The climate is changing Wayne, it always has and it always will and nobody can tell you what it will look like a even a year from now – Will next summer in Wellington be hotter, cooler, wetter, drier, windier, calmer than this years? Nobody knows

      As human beings we have no control over this and just have to roll with the punches and make hay when the sun shines, make contigency plans for the hard times and enjoy the good ones


      February 24, 2021 at 6:08 pm

  8. I had hoped that the discussion here would focus more on the renewable energy options that are being touted as the path forward to emissions-free power generation, rather than the endless debate around AGW.

    After years spent debating the latter in forums like this I’m content to allow the pro-AGW crowd to crash into the sort of realities that California and now Texas have encountered with trying to address their issue.

    To put it bluntly, if the rest of the world want emissions-free power in the quantities and availability required for our advanced, technological society, then we need to boost nuclear by a couple of orders of magnitude. I see no evidence of that sort of crash program anywhere. Therefore I conclude that the “Climate Crisis” screamers are not serious, as witnessed by their own behaviour with regard to jetting around the world and owning seaside property.

    Tom Hunter

    February 24, 2021 at 7:23 pm

    • Ok Tom;

      What are the options?

      Hydroelectric – thats good, it is reponsive to changes in demand, proven and reliable, In a low precipitation year resevoirs can run low. They have a large footprint on the landscape, interfere with migratory fish species like eels and salmon. There are only certain places plants can be built, neither Texas nor Florida offer much in the way of opportunities for Hydroelectricity plants

      California does not count Hydro as a renewable for some reason

      Coal – plentiful and cheap but considered dirty, the nasties can be scrubbed from the waste gases though, greenies think CO2 is a nasty and hate coal. Coal fired plants are not particuly responsive to changes in demand, so boilers have to be kept in steam even when the turbines they drive are not in use, which is an added expense

      Oil – as per coal, but easier to handle but the raw oil is generally more expensive than coal

      Gas can be used to generate steam or to spin gas turbines, the later are very quick to bring online, need a supply of cheap gas to be economic. Efficiency is improved by using waste gas to create steam to drive steam turbines

      Nuclear – very cheap electricity, Plants need to be run at near capacity to maintain economics, not responsive to sudden changes in demand – good baseload generators .

      Geothermal – only possible in limited places,

      Tidal experimental – only possible in regions with strong tides, inconsistant output

      Windmills – erratic in operation, a typical windfarm will only produce 1/3 of its rated output over its lifespan, introduces complexity into grid managment because they may produce power when its not needed, or fail to produce it when needed.

      Generators can be divided into baseload or dispatchable. where the baseload is the minimum usage 24/7 and the dispatchable that part than can be bought online or taken offline as demand fluctuates from the baseline, Because the actual output from windmills cannot be controlled you need enough dispatchable capacity to cover for them when they don’t work which adds to the cost to the consumer

      Solar – peak output at mid day which in most places coincides with a dip in power demand, which peaks in the morning when people are getting ready for work or going to work and in the evening when people arrive home


      February 24, 2021 at 9:24 pm

  9. Andrei,

    To some extent I agree with you about the publications I mentioned, they are popular science periodicals. I disagree with you about Scientific American. Occasionally I will read papers of original climate science research, tough I did more of that a while ago than at the present. Particularly on the New Zealand temperature series.

    I did biochemistry, marine ecology and physical geography to Stage 2 level at University, so I have some reasonable grounding in the scientific method.

    On these matters well informed laypeople (I would regard myself in that category) have to make judgements about the science. Lay people can’t be expected to read all the original research papers, they have to read more popular summaries, especially those done by those who are widely regarded as leaders in their field. Policy is not left to the climate scientists, they provide the data and their analysis, and depending on the scientist, popularise their findings.

    Anyway, I accept the overall judgement that mankind induced climate change is occurring, and I think we have a responsibility to do our part in mitigating it. Many, though not all, of Rod Carr’s proposals are credible and worth of serious consideration. Some will be adopted. Getting out of ICE cars over the next 30 years being among the more obvious. No new ICE imports after say 2035 will mean the NZ vehicle fleet will mostly be ICE free by 2050.


    February 25, 2021 at 7:47 am

  10. Anyway, I accept the overall judgement that mankind induced climate change is occurring, and I think we have a responsibility to do our part in mitigating it.

    That is a quasi religious belief, not one based on sound scientfic thinking.

    The problem is if the human species did not exist the climate would still be changing, agreed?

    And you don’t know and cannot know what the world would look like without our prescence and nor can you know what real effects any mitigation stategy you might propose might have on the climate because you cannot measure it in any meaningful way

    On the other hand the proposd mitigation stategies do have a more measurable impact on human beings and in particular they hurt the poor.

    We are talking advancing political agendas here not science, though the political rhetoric is dressed up in the language of science


    February 25, 2021 at 9:41 am

  11. Chuckle… “Scientific” American

    Tom Hunter

    February 25, 2021 at 3:27 pm

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