Australia’s is an Energy Cautionary Tale for California

In May the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) revealed wind, solar, and hydroelectric generated approximately 68.5 million megawatt-hours of power, and coal generated 60 million. That’s roughly 23 percent of total electricity from renewables versus 20 percent from coal, but those numbers are deceptively misleading. 

Australia is the case study to show why renewable energy numbers are generally incorrect; and if California continues following Australia’s lead in renewables (solar and wind) our electricity prices will continue rising (California has some of the highest in the U.S.) leading to economic stagnation, and energy poverty for Californians. 

The U.S., and California similar to Australia have abundant amounts of coal, and nuclear energy, but America and California have more natural gas, oil, and petroleum for power generation and economic growth. But California voters and policymakers have chosen Australia’s path by embracing chaotically, intermittent solar and wind farms for electricity over abundant, reliable, affordable, scalable, and flexible natural gas, coal, and nuclear. 

Trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and billions of barrels of oil that can be recovered in the Monterey Shale for California are sitting untouched instead of accessing these resources to fund services such as eliminating homelessness and lowering the tax burden on businesses and individuals. U.S. natural gas electrical generation reached “records highs” in July. There is nothing cleaner than natural gas for electricity and achieving economic growth while lowering emissions.

The deceptive practice of believing sun and wind have overtaken oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear is renewables need fossil fuel backup or nuclear backup, whereas a nuclear, coal-fired, or natural gas-fired power plant never does. Moreover, take away state renewable portfolio standards (California has one), tax subsidies, tax equity finance (solar and wind), production subsidies that last ten years, and consumer incentives, quotas, and laws to install and use renewables – eliminate those – and renewables use precipitously drop.

Even the technologically advanced Germans have watched their clean energy transition plummet, and emissions rise when subsidies were cut. German are letting the market decide how they use and produce energy to begin lowering their overly high electricity prices. California should do the same. 

Australia has spent billions on renewable subsidies, and received little in return, except political instability, and some of the highest electricity prices in the world. On a per capita bases, Australia has the highest amount of renewable energy investment in the world, with Japan coming in second, however the newly elected Australian government is shutting down renewable subsidies in the early 2020s. This is causing renewable use to plummet in Australia, and the same predicaments will plague California the more we move forward with a clean energy transition that doesn’t consider an all-of-the-above approach (fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewables working together).

The costs alone to electricity, and overall economic growth are crushing. Renewables do not work to lower electrical costs, and only bring economic misery to Australia, countries globally using them predominantly for power generation, and will bring the same consequences to California.

California’s carbon-free goals and climate polices at this time due to technological constraints will also not work, and Australia has run into the same predicament. The good news for California is “carbon-free energy consumption has increased since 2011 to 14.4 percent of total global consumption,” according the to British Petroleum (BP) Statistical Review of World Energy 2019.

A sobering reality for this good news comes from Professor Roger Pielke Jr., of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who details to achieve anything close to carbon-free energy to electricity, the entire world, and certainly California, would need to build and come online a brand new nuclear plant everyday until 2050. Additionally, Professor Pielke shows how climate policies are having negligible affect on the climate since global fossil fuel growth rose in 2018.

Where Australia and California collide is when elected policymakers ignore the reality of the only way to achieve a carbon-free society for electricity comes from nuclear energy power plants. If nuclear scares you then the only other energy to electricity resource that has been proven to reduce emissions – (whereas heavy-use of renewables is being proven to increase emissions and electricity costs in California, Germany, and Australia) – is natural gas.

The other issue that is never discussed when deciding which source of energy to use or not use is that over 6,000 products come from a barrel of crude oil. Literally, every product that contributes to human longevity and inspired living has their origins in a barrel of oil. Every part of the supply chain for solar panels and wind turbines comes from crude oil. 

Without oil there isn’t renewables, or the ability to advance solar panels and wind turbines to the point where they are affordable, scalable, reliable, abundant, sensible, and flexible. Being carbon-free, and environmentally sound makes ethical and economic sense, but when reality is tossed aside then California society and America itself could crumble into oblivion or at the least, energy poverty.

Australia is proving what happens by embracing energy technologies that are still in their infancy when an all-of-the-above approach is what should be embraced. As California electrical prices rise, homelessness increases over lack of housing, and prices at the pump increase over climate polices like Senate Bill 100 that elected officials, and Governor Newsom will begin to ask the hard questions of how all Californians can prosper with energy solutions that work such as natural gas-fired power plants and nuclear energy. Otherwise trillions that have been wasted so far on the climate without results will continue unabated in California, Australia, and Germany.

Todd Royal is an independent public policy consultant focusing on the geopolitical implications of energy based in Los Angeles, California.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.