California Desperate for Fossil Fuel to Keep the Lights On

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Leroy N. Soetoro

Apr 19, 2022, 2:30:38 PM4/19/22

The state that says it will be fully powered by renewables by 2045 has
asked the federal government to find an electric reliability emergency
which “requires intervention … to preserve the reliability of bulk
electric power” in California. Following the request, the state’s grid
operator issued two straight days of flex alerts, asking for voluntary
energy conservation.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm dated Sept. 7,
the Independent System Operator requested and received an emergency order
that would allow it “to dispatch additional generation that may be
necessary for the CAISO to meet demand in the face of extremely
challenging conditions including extreme heatwaves, multiple fires, high
winds, and various grid issues.”

Grid Managers Ask for Natural Gas to Avoid Blackouts
Did CAISO ask for an additional 200 megawatts of power, enough to light
200,000 homes, from windmills? Or solar panels? No, it needed electricity
from natural gas.

Yes, that natural gas. The source that policymakers across California are
determined to eliminate from the state’s energy portfolio.

California’s recurring energy problems don’t inspire confidence that it
will actually meet the 2045 renewables-only goal.

Last year the state was hit with rolling blackouts for the first time in
nearly two decades. This year, at least a half dozen flex alerts
encouraging customers to “set thermostats to 78 degrees or higher,” “avoid
using major appliances, like dishwashers and clothes washers and dryers,”
and “turn off all unnecessary lights” have been issued. How can officials
expect to meet electricity demand in 2045, which will be in an era of
significantly higher consumption, if demand is straining the grid in 2021?

Related Story: Opinion: Here Comes Drought Again, Why Is California Never

California Imports 33% of Power
It’s almost a certainty that California will have to buy electricity from
other states in 2045 and beyond. It already imports a third of its power;
more than any other state. While much of what is imported from the
Northwest is generated by renewables, according to the U.S. Energy
Information Administration, imports from Arizona, Baja California,
Colorado, Mexico, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah include “natural
gas, nuclear energy, coal, or other, unspecified, resources,” as well as

“About 10% of California’s total electricity imports are from coal-fired
power plants,” says the EIA, though essentially all of the state’s
“imports of coal-fired generation are projected to end by 2026.”

We’ll see. Again, if California is having trouble with its current lineup
of power sources, how will it meet increased demand in a short five years
unless it relies on cheap, reliable fossil fuels?

Though “no one knows for sure how much solar and wind will be needed, or
if it will be there, because of technological constraints and the variable
and intermittent nature of solar and land-use requirements,” says Todd
Royal, co-author of three books on energy, to be fully renewable as
planned by 2045, output from those sources will have to not only be
doubled or even tripled but likely more than quadrupled.

Including geothermal, roughly 38% of California’s in-state-generated
electricity was produced by renewable sources last year. But we can
exclude large hydroelectric power (9.4% of the renewables portfolio) from
the future, because it will not be welcomed in the mix. That will leave
solar (currently a little more than 13%) and wind (about 11%) to carry the
bulk of in-state generation.

That’s no easy hill to climb. The California Energy Commission admits that
achieving “clean electricity generation capacity” will require “a record-
breaking rate” of development “for the next 25 years.” The renewables
crusade will also need to overcome NIMBYs, who have banded together to
stop and delay wind and solar projects worldwide.

Don’t Be Surprised if Utility Rates Double or Triple
And there’s the grid itself, which has neither the “capability nor
capacity to add large amounts of renewables,” says Royal. Because
California’s is already “one of America’s least-reliable electric grids,”
according to energy writer Robert Bryce, “restricting the use of natural
gas” means it will inevitably be subject to an increased demand for
electricity, which will undermine its already shaky reliability. The clean
energy transition will simply have to wait “until brand new grids are
built,” says Royal.

Whether the transition goes as planned, or stalls as some expect, the
process will be painful. “Rapid reductions in natural gas consumption,”
says Bryce, “could cause rates to double or triple.”

One wonders how much the green zealots care about that, if they even care
at all.

About the Author

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the
Pacific Research Institute. He wrote this exclusively for GV Wire.

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