How California’s Environmental Mandates Led to Blackouts
California’s rolling blackouts this summer were caused by decades of costly and poorly planned decisions to replace coal, nuclear, and gas-powered plants with solar and wind, according to some energy experts.
“It speaks to the delusion of California policymakers,” says Michael Shellenberger, the president of Environmental Progress, which advocates for greater reliance on nuclear power as a way to reduce CO2 emissions and provide reliable energy. “They really convinced themselves that they could manage all of this increased demand on renewables, which are fundamentally unreliable.”
California banned the construction of new nuclear reactors in 1976 and has been incentivizing companies to close older plants by piling on burdensome regulations ever since.
Shellenberger says this loss has made California more susceptible to blackouts.
“It would have just provided the energy that we didn’t have,” says Shellenberger. “The nuclear plant, unlike the solar farms or wind, is reliable like 92 percent of the year.”
Policymakers also started closing natural gas plants because they produce more CO2 emissions than wind and solar, ignoring warnings that doing so would lead to energy shortages. On Wednesday, California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, signed an executive order asking the state legislature to ban fracking oil and gas, the latter of which provided a majority of the state’s energy during the recent blackouts.
Critics of solar and wind energy say that renewables provide consistent energy only under optimal weather conditions.
But the main operator of California’s grid says a lack of easily accessible backup energy, not renewables like wind and solar, were to blame for the blackouts.
“Renewables have not caused this issue. This is a resource issue, not a renewable issue,” California Independent Systems Operator CEO Stephen Berberich said in an August 18 press briefing.
Some defenders of renewable energy even say that that fossil fuels are the real culprit and that critics like Shellenberger are distorting the facts in service of their preconceived biases
The August blackout, they point out, was directly caused by the failure of a natural gas generator.
“Those fossil fuel technologies have trouble performing in the heat,” says energy analyst Amol Phadke. Phadke is the co-author of UC-Berkeley’s 2035 Report, which argues that America should transition to 90 percent carbon-free energy generation in the next 15 years.
But the natural gas generator that failed was a backup system. It had been flipped on only because the state’s energy capacity failed as the sun went down, the wind slowed, and Californians blasted their air conditioners to deal with a heat wave.
Still, Phadke insists that the real problem was a failure to adequately plan backup power.
“And in fact, I would argue that having a lot more renewable
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