Wildfires expose danger of California renewable energy mandates

The Wall Street Journal editorializes:

Governor Jerry Brown on Friday called a “state of emergency” in San Francisco because a distant wildfire threatens the city’s electricity supply. Like so many other emergencies in California, this one is government-made and a warning about its green political obsessions.

The Rim Fire, which is slashing and burning through the Yosemite region, forced the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to shut down two Hetch Hetchy hydropower plants and the transmission lines that power its municipal buildings. While a government shutdown in San Francisco might have salutary effects, the city’s hospital, port and airport would also be affected. Hence the emergency.

The utility commission assured residents over the weekend that it doesn’t anticipate service interruptions because it can purchase power on the open market—though so far at a $600,000 premium. The bigger disaster, according to the utility, is that it “has been unable to generate and transmit clean, greenhouse gas-free hydroelectric power” and must rely on natural gas-fired plants. This contravenes the utility’s 100% renewable-energy goal.

The utility procures 97% of its power from Hetch Hetchy’s 400-megawatt hydroplants via roughly 150-mile transmission lines. New-generation renewables such as solar and biogas supply a mere 10 megawatts of municipal power because they require more space and capital to bring to scale. Trouble is, long transmission lines are at high risk to disruption in natural disasters…

Take San Diego Gas & Electric, which last year completed a 120-mile transmission line from Imperial County wind and solar farms at a cost of $1.9 billion. According to a 2008 draft Environmental Impact Report, “there were 33 reported power outages resulting from 16 distinct wildfire or lightning events” between 1986 and 2005 along an existing transmission line running through the valley.

The Little Hoover Commission, the state’s oversight agency, warned last year that the closure of the San Onofre nuclear plant leaves Southern California “vulnerable to brownouts during heat waves” or “if a wildfire took out a key transmission line.” California has usually had excess generating capacity to pick up the slack when transmission lines are downed. However, the excess capacity is declining as more renewables come online and gas-fired plants, which are located along the coasts near cities, are retired.

California may soon have a lot more fires to put out if Sacramento blazes ahead with its renewable mandates.

Read the entire editorial ($ubscription required).

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8 responses to “Wildfires expose danger of California renewable energy mandates

  1. Let ‘em eat soycakes….

  2. The last sentence of this story about “a lot more fires to put out if Sacramento blazes ahead” reminds me that in politics the most devastating attacks are not assasinations, which only kill people, but public humiliation, which can kill bad ideas.

    • It can, assuming there is any public left in CA to deliver the necessary levels of humiliation.

      • That is indeed the question. California has driven out a large swathe of its middle-income earners, who tend to be politically moderate or conservative as well. That leaves them with a strange economic and political bell curve — platykurtotic on incomes (flatter than a normal distribution) and heavier on “progressive” voters.

      • California may be the best example ever of Chamfort’s “How many fools does it take to make up a public?”

  3. The people of California are about to feel the PAIN of corrupt Democrats. San Fransisco could lose its water and electricity. The rest of the US doesn’t care. The porn state, sexually perverted state of ignorant drug using Democrats will learn what it means to vote for IGNORANCE.

  4. Losing power, potentially for critical services, is not their main worry. Nor do they worry about the $600,000 premium for needed electricity. The worry is not being 100% renewable in a time of crisis. Unbelievable. Do these folks realize just how stupid they sound? When there is a huge blackout are they going to celebrate lower CO2 emissions?

    • I wouldn’t put it past them. In primitive societies, when something bad happens to a tribe, they take it as a punishment for making their gods angry.

      In an overdeveloped and senile civilisation like California is today, bad is good. A power crisis is something to celebrate: they’ve been good; they’ve been making all the right sacrifices and now any blackout or energy price hike can be perceived as a reward for good behaviour. Finally, there is a way for a policy to have an impact!

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