The state of California has embarked on a 25-year green power odyssey in an effort to reduce the amount of carbon we place into the atmosphere, all aimed at leading the world in an anti-climate change crusade for humanity.
Beginning in 2030, 50 percent of all electrical power produced for our regulated utilities will be mandated “renewable” energy. This definition under the current law includes energy from solar, wind and small hydroelectric facilities built, or to be built, over that time frame. It excludes residential solar installations and existing large hydroelectric projects such as energy produced from Hoover Dam.
While some of this new power will be “infill” development (smaller solar projects that may be placed in vacant or brown-field urban areas), most of it will be new development in areas of the state where sunshine and wind are most plentiful, our more remote inland desert regions including much of the Inland Empire.
The current mandate of 20 percent renewable energy scheduled to be met by 2020 (since changed to 33 percent) has almost been met, but it has come at a high price for consumers, an increase in electrical rates of 35 percent. California now has rates 40 percent higher than the national average.
There are a number of factors involved in the high cost of this renewable energy. The easiest factor for the public to understand is that since these projects are largely built in remote areas away from population centers, they require new transmission infrastructure to deliver the power to consumers. This new infrastructure is funded through increased electrical rates.
But there are other factors which most consumers are not aware of. While costs for solar and wind projects have decreased over the last decade thanks in part to heavy taxpayer subsidies, their costs remain significantly higher than traditional natural gas or coal-fired power plants. Sunshine and wind are free, but the technology needed to collect that energy is very expensive. It requires significantly more property to build, and whether that property is purchased or leased, land is not cheap in California.
Then there is the simple and undeniable fact that solar and wind generation is just plain inefficient and what we call in the industry, intermittent. Solar only functions when the sun is shining, and is heavily diminished when the weather is cloudy. Wind generation only works when the wind is blowing. Yet demand for electricity by Californians does not diminish. Electrical usage peaks from 5 to 7 p.m., as Californians are getting home from work and school. This is also when solar power plants shut down!
This would be fine, if there were some way to store excess power during the day for later in the evening, but such technologies do not currently exist on a commercial scale unless you are prepared to pay billions of dollars for large buildings storing millions of batteries that contain toxic, flammable, and explosive materials in your neighborhood.
The irony of California’s energy policy decisions is that every kilowatt of green energy from wind and solar requires an identical kilowatt for kilowatt replacement (when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing) from a traditional, carbon producing, fossil fuel power plant.
These “peaker” natural gas units are usually little more than jet engines run on natural gas attached to a generator, which are highly inefficient and expensive to operate in comparison to their larger, highly efficient natural gas generation counterparts such as Mountain View Power Plant in Redlands.
California’s renewable energy mandates are already responsible for 35 percent increases in electrical rates and that was just for the first 20 percent of the current mandate. Barring some miraculous technological breakthrough (like discovering Warp Drive), it is a near certainty that achieving the 50 percent mandate will cost consumers, businesses and taxpayers much, much more.
Don’t believe it? Check the price of gasoline in Arizona ($2.12 a gallon).
Neil Derry is a former San Bernardino County supervisor.
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