California Makes Energy a Luxury Good

People are leaving California. Outmigration is at record levels: “between 2007-2016, the state lost 1 million residents who picked up and moved elsewhere in the U.S.” The main culprits are high gas prices, over-taxation, crumbling infrastructure, a homelessness crisis, and below average public schools, with much of this exacerbated by a one-party, sclerotic government. A growing majority of taxpaying Californians are “expected to leave the state in the next 10 years” over these decisions, according to researcher Joel Kotkin.

California is “teetering on the edge of financial ruin,” yet every energy policy has to fit the climate change narrative, regardless of whether or how miniscule the causative role of Californians is in contributing to global warming. To make environmental matters direr, California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has recently started to cut electrical power (in a process termed “de-energization”), because of fears of high winds leading to wildfires. PG&E’s faulty equipment and a decaying electrical grid are exposed by high winds that can produce wildfires. In early October PG&E left approximately “1 million customers in the dark for days.”

Blackouts are expected to last until the wind dies down. World famous wine regions – Sonoma and Napa counties – are being shut off from the electrical grid, and ominous, undefined red flag warnings are:

In place for more than 25 million people in Northern and Southern California, which means soaring temperatures, low humidity and stronger winds will increase the risk of fire dangers.

PG&E’s largest customer base of homes and businesses in Northern California will see the highest risk of shutoffs. Additional fears from PG&E over downed power lines sparking fires are due to rundown electrical infrastructure. Higher California taxes have gone to pay public employee pension and health care costs, instead of basic electrical utility maintenance and delivery.

The State of California and PG&E learned from last year’s deadly Carr and Mendocino Complex Fires to plunge California into “Premodern” dark ages by shutting off the electrical grid instead of doing electrical infrastructure repairs, maintenance, brush clearing, and building a modern, stable grid. Losses from these wildfires caused over $400 billion in damages, which totaled roughly 1/7th of California’s total GDP. This caused economic contractions in health care, lost property, job displacement, and falling asset prices in all affected wildfire areas. PG&E and California elected officials have either stated or agreed that “safety blackouts” will continue.

What we are witnessing is a “man-made power outage problem” caused by Democratic Party-aligned environmentalists, activist judges, and the California Air Resources Board. Obama-era environmental regulations rewrote decades-old solutions to forest management by eliminating controlled fires to clear away dead foliage, and allowed plaintiffs attorneys and judges free reign to impose crushing judicial and regulatory costs for basic land management. If these regulations continue unabated then PG&E’s grid will continuously be shut off when hot winds affect their customer base.

When government-run electrical utilities are not able—or even allowed—to use market solutions for such basic issues as cutting down trees encroaching on their utility lines, then you have Third World conditions for electricity delivery. PG&E’s main business is the transmission and delivery of energy in the forms of natural gas and electricity service “to approximately 16 million people throughout a 70,000-square-mile service area in northern and central California.” Now PG&E can’t meet basic service requirements when the wind blows more than 25 miles per hour.

As historian Dr. Victor Davis Hanson laments, “California has become America’s First Third World State.” This is the future for California “when six of the ten most destructive wildfires in the State’s history were started by faulty electrical equipment.” The promise of smart grids, which are still technologically unfeasible, won’t help PG&E control grid shutoff if it refrains from doing mundane tasks such as brush clearance, controlled fires in vulnerable areas, and updating electrical infrastructure that is over 100 years old.

An electrical grid, according to the U.S. Office of Electricity, needs to accomplish: “Resiliency, reliable and affordable delivery of electricity while modernizing grid scale electricity storage; smart grid research and advanced technologies.” Electrical grids also need research and development to invent next-generation smart grids, and grid-scale electricity storage (which, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2017 Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), are not yet in existence), and a host of complex engineering, electronic, math, regression analysis, econometrics, physics, chemistry, construction and management techniques.

PG&E can only accomplish this task through increasing the durability and resiliency of the grid using state-of-the-art technologies, equipment, networks, and control systems that can deliver electricity in faster frequencies. The other solution for PG&E and elected officials is to advocate for nuclear energy like France instead of closing down existing facilities. Only nuclear power can achieve carbon-free electricity and the clean energy future that California craves. However, a new nuclear plant would need to be built every day for decades ahead to achieve the carbon-free future California’s liberal masters want to achieve.

Renewables – mainly solar and wind farms – are killing PG&E’s grid. They force California to dump fluctuating renewables from the grid since grid-scale energy battery storage systems are not available for such renewables. Meanwhile, electricity must be imported at a record pace. Chaotically intermittent, mathematically unstable, and unfeasible renewables are one of the biggest reasons PG&E’s rickety electrical delivery will continue in California.

PG&E is mandated under California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) – what a new book calls, “Death by Ecology” – to purchase large amounts of unreliable, unstable, un-economical, and un-flexible wind and solar energy. This started the trend towards renewables that don’t work, carbon-free electrical mandates, and global warming overtaking sensible energy to electricity policies. Only mass blackouts are guaranteed for California when renewables are widely deployed. This is why green-loving Germany was strongly rebuked by a recent McKinsey & Company report and the newspaper Der Spiegel over their failed reliance on renewables that was called a “disaster.”

The sun and the wind have never powered a modern society, especially not one with California’s 40 million residents. When government-run utilities impose renewables on a vast scale it will produce higher energy prices and unstable electrical grids that will lead to blackouts. The renewables and energy battery storage systems that replace grids will cost trillions to update, and might lead California to the Dark Ages. Until those trillions are spent, wildfires will continue raging, and PG&E will be left with no other choice than to shut off electricity to millions of end-users and ratepayers.

PG&E is a government monopoly that doesn’t have to change, and California is receiving a severe lesson in socialism versus capitalism. Common sense would suggest updating the existing PG&E grid with state-of-the-art technology while using abundant, reliable, affordable, scalable and flexible coal-fired and natural gas-fired plants to power the Golden State, along with nuclear energy that enhances productivity while lowering emissions.

Every Obama-era environmental and land-use management regulation that creates conditions for spreading wildfires and grid de-energization should be closely scrutinized. Global warming ideology cannot overrule the need for stable electricity. Only the private sector can fix this grid problem by inventing the technology that fully and simultaneously converts raw energy to electricity that can be stored in energy battery storage systems, and moved across the grid at on-demand, continuous, and uninterruptible speeds.

Reader Discussion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

on November 07, 2019 at 08:16:01 am

"Higher California taxes have gone to pay public employee pension and health care costs, instead of basic electrical utility maintenance and delivery." Sounds like you think either that PG&E is government-owned (it isn't) or that you think taxpayers ought to pay for " basic electrical utility maintenance and delivery", rather than PG&E, which is paid by its customers for precisely that.

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Image of Alan Kahan
Alan Kahan
on November 07, 2019 at 11:05:30 am

"PG&E is a government monopoly that doesn’t have to change, and California is receiving a severe lesson in socialism versus capitalism."

The entire situation in a nutshell....

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Image of OH Anarcho-Capitalist
OH Anarcho-Capitalist
on November 07, 2019 at 11:08:05 am

PG&E's capital outlays are directed/heavily influenced by Sacramento bureaucrats who "regulate" PG&E as a public utility regardless of the fact that it is a publicly held corporation....

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Image of OH Anarcho-Capitalist
OH Anarcho-Capitalist
on November 07, 2019 at 11:24:23 am

PG&E can only charge what California lets them charge. Specifically, it is the California Public Utilities Commission that determines what they can charge. Then California adds a variety of additional costs to PG&E that electric companies in other states do not have to pay, such as state-mandated renewable energy amounts or the Biomass Renewable Auction Mechanism. Then the state adds on things like California Alternate Rates for Energy and Family Electric Rate Assistance Program, requiring substantial discounts to the bills of some individuals. The Net Energy Metering means that PG&E is required to pay individuals who make energy available to the grid, even if it isn't needed. There are some times of the day when electricity is really needed, but often a lot of electricity has to be in excess of what is needed due to lack of any kind of grid storage mechanism in current technology.

And that only considers the direct control of PG&E by California. California has also substantially messed up its forest management practices to allow such high fire risk. Controlled burns and removal of trees through logging will substantially reduce the risk of fire, but California doesn't allow it.

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Image of Devin Watkins
Devin Watkins
on November 07, 2019 at 15:58:37 pm

Good read. Important info. Presented well. Very intelligent. Good writing. Thoroughly researched.

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Image of R. A. Vance
R. A. Vance
on August 07, 2020 at 22:58:52 pm

[…] states like California, energy is becoming a luxury commodity. Prices are rising and in a few decades green energy will up to 90% more efficient than […]

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