The End Of Green Power Is Just Over The Horizon

It is more likely that the environmental and economic public policy pendulum will have to swing back to clean fossil fuels and green power will become obsolescent.

Part 1 of this two-part article presented evidence that refutes three green power lobbyists’ contention that green power did not cause California’s summer 2020 power blackouts. But neither were the blackouts caused by failure of natural gas power, the impacts from climate change or delay in rolling out a 100 percent green power grid, as they contend. This is because the power blackouts of 2020 had more to do with the California Independent System Operator’s (Cal-ISO) failure of its Energy Imbalancing Market, rather than fossil fuel or green power. California depends on imports for 25 percent of its electricity. 

Western Power Time Zones and the Solar Duck Curve

Not only were importers hoarding power, their states get darker earlier requiring conventional natural gas and coal power to kick in.

Michael Schellenberger recently stated:

“California couldn’t find any more power from Arizona, Nevada, or Oregon, which were also struggling in a heat wave with low wind speeds while being located to the east of California and therefore in the dark sooner.  – Michael Schellenberger, “Why Renewables Cause Blackouts and Increase Vulnerability to Extreme Weather”, April 20, 2021.

Because Arizona, Nevada and Utah are located easterly of California, they are in darkness sooner than California.  During heat wave of the summer of 2020, it couldn’t import enough backup power from those states because they needed it for their own needs as they had switched to a greater proportion of solar power in their energy portfolios. Before solar power penetrated the market, these states had no daily energy crisis due to solar power phasing out at the end of each day, called the “Duck Curve”.  

California has an Energy Imbalancing Market (EIM) run by its Independent System Operator (CA-ISO) to import power each day during the sunset hours when solar power fades out.  But during the blackouts of summer 2020, the EIM failed in part due to a time zone difference in the availability of solar power as well as out of state providers hoarding backup power because of their greater reliance on intermittent green power.

The Texas blackouts of the winter of 2020 occurred because of something similar. Texas’ power grid is self-contained and depends on the availability of wind power from its western sector, solar farms in the central and eastern sector and scattered natural gas power plants to be available if there is a sub-regional power outage.  But the snowstorm and freeze of 2021 was statewide, leaving no untouched backup power source to supply other areas. Cloud cover and snow blocked out solar power and froze wind turbines, as well as wind was nil. And the snowstorm hit west Texas harder.  Moreover, solar radiation varies vastly across Texas from west to east.

Solar Power Soon Sunsetting

Lobbyists are paid to lobby for their clients. And California has to continue to reduce air pollution in its peculiar smog traps.  So, the advocacy for clean power by the above-cited environmental lobbyists is acknowledged.  But soon there will be zero emission natural gas power plants that will be reliable 24/7/365 except for down time for maintenance.  Nat Gas power plants can be relocated back to near where customers live without costly transmission lines from solar farms located hundreds of miles away that have to run through forests where windstorms can cause deadly dropped power line fires in California.

And zero-carbon natural gas power plants can reduce the price of wholesale gas power about 55 percent from 4.2 cents to 1.9 cents per kilowatt hour without all the unreliability of solar power and mere 8 hour availability each day. The California Energy Commission projects the future price for concentrated solar power will be about 5 cents per kilowatt hour ($0.049) but that excludes the transmission and costly “smart grid” coordination costs and cost shifting. 

The lobbyists for zero emission Nat Gas power plants will be showing up at the CPUC soon and the game of political football will change.  Exacerbating the public policy problem is that green power has never delivered a public health payoff (other than from other personal health measures unrelated to cleaner air) as to asthma or lung cancer rates in California.  Such health maladies are primarily human immune system issues in the first place.    And the notion that climate change contributed to the overblown Coronavirus epidemic is just “batty”.  Physically, climate change (i.e., global warming) is not an air pollution issue but a theoretic upper stratospheric matter in the first place.  Countries located around the hotter equatorial zone don’t necessarily suffer from greater air pollution for air has to be trapped to result in pollution just as stagnant water is not safe to drink.

What will be the responsible environmental option once green power is challenged by lower cost, equally clean, natural gas power?  It is more likely that the public policy pendulum will have to swing back to clean fossil fuels and green power will become obsolescent. But political lobbying by special interests won’t become obsolescent any time soon.  Contrary to their call for phasing out gas power altogether, the three green power lobbyists I have engaged on this issue do not realize that the time to move on from green power is just over the time horizon in California.

Wayne Lusvardi, a recent émigré from California, temporarily resides in San Antonio, Texas, and worked on a task force dealing with the California Energy Crisis of 2001 for California’s largest urban water agency.

Comments

  1. Boris Badenov says

    Carbon Dioxide IS NOT a pollutant. What is a pollutant and does effect local climate are cutting down trees to plant solar panels and wind mills slowing down the air flow, not to mention murdering millions of birds and bats. CA is sitting on enough Nat Gas and oil to take care of a goodly portion of our idiot caused deficit.

  2. Peter Farley says

    Where in the world has anyone built a gas plant with CCS that can supply power for 1.9c/kWh. A gas plant with CCS will use 20/30% of its power to extract/ compress and transport CO2 to a repository and its capital costs can be 50-150% higher than a plant without CCS

    According to the EIA, Industrial natural gas in California is around $8.50/GJ, assuming average efficiency including hot days and part load running of 50% for a CC gas plant that is 6c/kWh just for fuel before the costs of CCS.

    Even if the power plant could buy at Henry Hub prices today $2.96/mBTU and pay nothing for transport the fuel cost is still 2c/kWh. operation depreciation, maintenance and finance costs adds at least another 1.5 c so we are now up to at least 3.5c before CCS

    And CCS costs who knows, because there are exactly zero 100% capture CCS plants in the world but best guess is another 1.5-3c so now we are at 5-8c/kWh 2.5-4.5 times you claim, if it ever works. In contrats solar+ storage plants are being contracted at US$28/MWh (2.8c/kWh) and both battery and solar costs are falling

    According to NREL 70%+ of Californian electricity can be supplied behind the meter so you claim about the need for a vast new transmission network is unsubstantiated, even beforee the likely expansion of offshore wind

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