California’s Unsustainable Energy Policies


Solar panelsGlowing tributes to Gov. Jerry Brown’s environmental legacy obscure how long California has been proclaiming itself the leader in fighting “climate change.” The crusade began with Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who promoted and signed the “Global Warming Solutions Act” in 2006, setting initial targets for greenhouse-gas reduction and empowering the California Air Resources Board to enforce compliance with laws and regulations aimed at achieving these goals. Other significant legislation followed. Senate Bill 107, also passed in 2006, mandated a “renewable portfolio standard,” wherein at least 20 percent of California’s electricity would come from renewable sources by 2010. In 2008, the landmark Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act directed cities and counties to increase the housing density of their communities.

When Brown took over as governor in 2011, major environmental legislation accelerated. A 2011 law raised the renewable-portfolio standard to 33 percent by 2020; another, passed in 2015, pushed the standard to 50 percent by 2030. In 2016, California set a greenhouse-gas emission-reduction target of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and extended its “cap-and-trade” program to 2030. This is just a partial list. High-speed rail, water rationing, “urban-containment” policies, a virtual prohibition on conventional energy development, retrofit mandates for trucks and dwellings, and much more have come down from Sacramento in an attempt to “address climate change.”

Will any of it work? Is California setting an example that the world can follow?

The short answer: no. Renewables alone cannot power the global economy. The latest data on global energy consumption by source show how dependent the world remains on fossil fuels. In 2015, oil supplied 33 percent of all energy consumed globally, with coal accounting for 29 percent and natural gas 24 percent—adding up to 86 percent of all energy consumed. Hydro-electric power added another 7 percent and nuclear power 4 percent. Renewables—primarily wind and solar power—contributed the remaining 3 percent. Even tripling renewable capacity would scarcely affect the primacy of fossil fuel to the world’s economy. Moreover, renewables are not “greener” than conventional energy, particularly if conventional energy is produced using the cleanest technologies available. If all the governments on earth enforced on their people the experiment that California is committed to, the result would be the collapse of civilization.

Back in the 1990s, before environmentalism had become so politically divisive, the Worldwatch Institute published one of the most reputable environmentalist journals, in which the organization consistently advocated for methane (natural gas) as the “transitional fuel” to power the global economy until breakthrough technologies such as fusion power or satellite solar power stations became commercially viable. More recently, environmental activists such as Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore have championed nuclear power as an essential component of our energy future. No place on earth is more capable of developing clean fossil fuel and nuclear power than California. A 2012 report for the Congressional Research Service estimated that California offshore areas contain 10.13 billion barrels of oil and 11.73 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Onshore, the state boasts the Monterey shale, which may contain upward of another 15 billion barrels of oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Recommissioning and expanding California’s San Onofre nuclear power station and retaining the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility could easily provide five gigawatts of baseload electricity—enough to keep millions of electric vehicles on the road.

Similarly, no place is more capable than California of developing abundant water resources—though the state’s wrongheaded policies have helped create chronic water shortages. California still boasts the most elaborate system of inter-basin water transfers in the world. Upgrading water storage by, for example, raising the height of the Shasta Dam could allow Californians to collect additional millions of acre feet of storm runoff each year. And if California embraced state-of-the-art desalination technology, additional millions of acre-feet could supply arid Southern California cities along the coast, where most Californians reside.

In short, California has a choice to make: it can impoverish its population by creating an artificial scarcity of land, energy, and water, enforcing draconian restrictions on development in the name of fighting climate change. Or it can face reality and become a pioneer in a new age of clean-energy development. If the Golden State chooses the second course, it will create a viable example for the world to follow.

Edward Ring co-founded the California Policy Center in 2010 and served as its president through 2016. This article originally appeared in City Journal.

Solar Energy Gives Investors a Shock

Ivanpah solar energySolar energy is full of surprises.

The operators of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System were recently surprised by state air quality regulators, who informed them that the $2.2 billion solar energy plant is a carbon polluter.

Solar energy doesn’t emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s the whole point of California’s increasingly mandatory and wildly expensive push to replace fossil fuels with solar and wind energy.

But as it turns out, the sun does not shine at night. This is what happens when governors don’t do any research before they sign legislation.

The Ivanpah plant is located on five square miles of the Mojave Desert near the Nevada border. You can see it from Interstate 15 — it’s that alien-looking landscape of shiny circles surrounding three skeletal towers topped with black-and-white capsules.

The shiny circles are hundreds of thousands of mirrors that aim sunlight at boilers mounted on the towers. The sun boils the water, and the steam rotates turbines, which generate electricity.

But only during the day.

At night, and on cloudy days, Ivanpah burns natural gas to keep the water hot.

And that attracted the attention of the California Air Resources Board, which gave Ivanpah’s operators until Nov. 4 to comply with the state’s cap-and-trade program by cutting the plant’s carbon emissions 10 percent or purchasing pollution credits from somebody who has cut carbon emissions someplace else.

Ivanpah, a “clean energy” plant built with $1.6 billion in federal loan guarantees and $600 million in federal tax credits, now has to pay for being a “polluter” in California.

Solar panelsAnd that’s not the only surprise in the solar business. Some people who invested tens of thousands of dollars in rooftop solar panels have been disappointed by the revenue from net metering — the money they’re supposed to receive for selling surplus electricity back to the grid.

West Hills residents Barbara and Bob Schoenburg are beyond annoyed that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is holding more than $1,000 of their money. The Schoenburgs’ solar panel array, for which they paid about $20,000 after rebates and credits, consistently generates more electricity than they use. But LADWP will not write them a check. Instead, the credit on their bill just grows, year after year. It can’t even be used to pay the rest of the DWP bill for water, taxes or sewer and sanitation charges.

Here’s the surprise: California’s net-metering law, which requires utilities to pay their customers for surplus electricity generated by solar panels, applies to all utilities in the state with one exception — the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Yet some customers of Southern California Edison are equally aggravated. Hidden Hills resident Dr. Daniel Gross invested more than $20,000 in solar panels and was surprised when the installer told him the electricity generated by them could not be used to power his own home.

The electricity from the rooftop panels flows to the grid, and the home is powered with electricity drawn from the grid, as before. Once a year, the utility settles up. “The rate they pay you is markedly less than the rate you pay them,” Gross said, adding that he’d like to install batteries and be off the grid altogether.

“I thought I was doing something good for the country, for the community, for the economy,” he said, “and instead I’m a peripheral provider of electricity that Southern California Edison sells to make money.”

Southern California Edison is concerned about losing customers like Gross. In its most recent quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, SCE disclosed that future revenues could be negatively affected by “possible customer bypass or departure” if new technologies, government subsidies or higher rates made self-generation “economically viable.”

LADWP made a similar disclosure in a recent statement to bond buyers. Self-generation was listed as one of the factors that may “materially affect the operating and financial position of the department.”

SCE and other investor-owned utilities are now asking the California Public Utilities Commission to lower the rate they have to pay their power-generating customers for surplus electricity. And they say the CPUC must approve new fees on solar customers to prevent the existing system from collapsing due to declining revenue.

Gross has no patience for their argument. “That’s the same concern the wagon wheel makers had,” he said.

Maybe that will be the final surprise. If California lawmakers and regulators continue to pretend there’s no longer any need for fossil fuels, wagons could make a comeback.