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Michael Swartz / June 30, 2021

California’s Brownout Summer: The Sequel

Just remember that rolling blackouts and “flex alerts” are what Democrats want for the whole country.

Since Hollywood loves sequels so much, perhaps it’s fitting that the Golden State is being set up to once again be the Blackout State this summer thanks to an electricity shortage of its own making.

You may recall that last summer, amid the pandemic lockdown and a heat wave unseen in California for the last 70 years, the state was wracked by rolling blackouts thanks to an overstressed electrical grid and not enough power in the system to address the demand. Ironically, the problem tends to be that there’s too much of a good thing: an overabundance of solar-produced energy during the early afternoon causes fossil fuel suppliers to the grid to shut down or curtail their plants. Unfortunately, these plants have difficulty ramping up when needed to address the shortage in the late afternoon and evening when workers are returning home and wish to crank the air conditioners back up.

The situation got so bad earlier this month that the state of California alerted those with electric cars to avoid charging them during peak times. While the meme that sprung from this alert exaggerated the claim to some extent, even the good leftist soldiers at Snopes couldn’t deny there was some truth to it.

While Uncle Sam has spent billions of your tax dollars over the last couple of decades subsidizing the buildup of the renewable energy industry, it hasn’t made a dent in addressing two critical facts: the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun sets at night. The intermittent and capricious nature of wind and solar energy make it difficult for those who run the electrical grid to balance the supply and demand, and the California situation is even worse because the state has repressively mandated zero-carbon electrical generation and carbon neutrality by 2045. This doesn’t even count a wish list item of 1.2 million new electric car charging stations in the next decade — even as no one knows from where that electricity will come.

Thanks to those green energy mandates, California’s lone nuclear plant at Diablo Canyon is slated to go offline in 2025 and natural gas plants are being decommissioned decades early. Meanwhile, efforts to build even more wind turbine farms are running into resistance from local residents. Is it any wonder, then, that California residents may need to take out a second mortgage just to pay their “absolutely exploding” power bills?

In the previous era, inflation was pretty much kept in check and power prices leveled off for most thanks to a nationwide surge in fracking and industrywide conversion to natural gas, but even then Californians endured a 39.5% increase in electricity costs from 2010-2020. They could see another 47% jump in the coming decade. Moreover, the policies are driving a wedge between two key Democrat constituencies: environmentalists, who have never met a green energy scheme that they felt taxpayers couldn’t subsidize, and the Latino community that makes its home in California far away from the coastal elites. They fear higher energy bills will slow down their progress in achieving their economic goals of building nest eggs and attaining home ownership.

Meanwhile, insufficient power reliability seems to be moving east (along with thousands of Californians) into Texas. That state’s electricity woes over the winter revealed the vulnerability of its grid, which like California’s depends heavily on wind power. It’s a fact picked up by the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which evaluated the Texas situation: “A big problem is that subsidies and mandates have spurred an overdevelopment of renewables, which has resulted in gas plants operating at lower levels or even idle much of the time. Keeping standby units in top condition is hugely expensive. So when plants are required to run all out to meet surging demand or back up renewables, problems crop up — as they did this [month].”

There could come a point at which the technology of energy storage will catch up to the potential of renewables like solar and wind, but after subsidizing and creating mandated carveouts for these means of generation since the “first” Carter administration, one would think we would have advanced a lot more on that front. Perhaps it’s just an expensive dead end, particularly at a time when we have plentiful oil and natural gas and other nations around the world have taken great advantage of nuclear power — a fuel source we have all but ignored for 40 years since Three Mile Island.

We’re all for conserving energy, but it should be a choice and not something forced on us by a “flex alert” or — worse — a rolling blackout. Luckily, most of us aren’t in places like Texas or California, where the choices will be limited thanks to the folly of believing government policy can save a planet that has proven over eons to be able to take care of itself just fine.

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