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California’s Blackout Warning

Editorial, The Wall Street Journal

Anti-fossil fuel mandates are leading to electricity shortages

Electricity blackouts are awful at any time, but especially during an extreme heat wave and for reasons that are man-made. That’s what millions in California have been enduring in recent days, and their plight is a warning to the rest of America about the risks of Green New Deal policies.

The California Independent System Operator (Caiso), which manages the state’s power grid, declared a high-level emergency Friday and Saturday evenings and ordered utilities to reduce power usage. California and most of the southwestern U.S. are experiencing a severe heat wave. But other states are managing to keep power flowing. Why can’t California?

California last experienced rolling blackouts in 2001 amid energy market manipulation by speculators. 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. The result is something of a Rube Goldberg physics experiment.

During peak daylight hours, California produces a surplus of solar energy, and power generators may be ordered or paid to cut back their production so the grid isn’t overloaded. On Friday and Saturday Caiso reported about 1,000 mega-watt hours (MWh) were curtailed—enough to power 30,000 homes. This year 1.3 million MWh of power have been curtailed.

But this means supply shortages can occur in the evening when solar energy plunges but demand for power remains high. That’s what happened this weekend. Many natural gas and nuclear plants that can generate power 24/7 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.

State water regulations are also forcing the shutdown of “peaker” plants along the coast that can quickly ramp up generation when the sun goes down. This is why the Public Utilities Commission last year warned the state could face an energy shortage as early as 2021 on hot summer evenings. That day has arrived a year early. Congratulations to Democrats for beating their own forecasts.

When they can get it, Californians already pay twice as much for electricity as Washingtonians and a third more than Nevadans. Because the spot price for power in the summer can surge more than 30-fold from noon to dusk, utilities are building expensive batteries to store solar energy that can be released in the evening. They say that will save money, but that’s also what they said about Jerry Brown’s failed bullet train.

To sum up: California’s antipathy even to natural gas and nuclear power has resulted in higher energy prices and now power surpluses and shortages because renewables are intermittent energy sources.

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