Georgia Magazine - April 2017 - 26


COMMENTARY

California energy policies serve
as cautionary tale

C

BY LANCE BROWN

alifornia's Senate Bill 350, signed
by Gov. Jerry Brown in October,
establishes aggressive standards
for renewable power and energy efficiency in the state. By 2030, California utilities will be under a state
mandate to generate or procure half
of their electricity from renewable
sources. Energy efficiency savings
must also be doubled by 2030.
If that wasn't ambitious enough,
state Sen. Kevin De Leon has introduced a new bill, Senate Bill 584, that
would accelerate the target date for
50 percent renewables to 2025 and
require 100 percent of the state's electricity to be from renewable sources
by the end of 2045.
But can California actually reach
those aggressive targets? And what
would that look like?
Californians already pay power rates 45 percent higher than the
national average. Higher targets for
renewables and greater spending on
energy efficiency projects are likely
to raise those rates even more. However, Californians have coped with
paying higher power prices for years.
The bigger issue, according to at least
one recent report, could be where
California utilities get the renewable
power they need to meet Senate Bill
350's mandate.
California today imports about a
third of the electricity it consumes,
up from a quarter just five years ago.
Of that third, 65 percent comes from
its neighbors to the southeast and
35 percent comes from the Pacific
Northwest. That import percentage
grows even higher during the warm
season. Because electricity prices
outside the state are significantly
cheaper, importing power makes
a lot of sense for the state's power
providers. Should those circumstances remain the same, California utilities are likely to import increasing

26

amounts of power from across state
lines in order to provide enough
power for population growth and
business expansion.
But consider this important
point: California already has the
nation's least reliable electricity. According to official data compiled by
Eaton, a power management company, California experienced 470 power
outages in the most recent data year.
For perspective, compare that to the
second-place finisher on the outage
list, Texas, which saw just 160 outages the same year. Now consider
that Texas produces significantly
more electricity than California. It
turns out that where your power
comes from really does matter.
Consumers in the Southeast experience far fewer outages, averaging
about 83 outages annually. Remove
the outlier for outages, Virginia, and
the Southeastern average drops to
fewer than 50 per year. With a strong
backbone of reliable coal, natural
gas and nuclear power, consumers
across the Southeast shouldn't expect the reliability of their grid to
change anytime soon. The same, unfortunately, can't be said for power
customers in California. As that state
relies even more heavily on wind
and solar power, Californians are
likely to see even more outages and
less reliable service.
Even California's definition of
renewable is problematic. Hydroelectric projects larger than 30 megawatts, for example, don't qualify as
renewable under state law. That has
had a chilling effect on new hydro
construction, cutting the state's hydro
resources by more than half in recent
years. The reliability of the hydro
that does exist in California is further
threatened by low water levels. All of
that means that one key tool for California utilities in meeting customer
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demand has been rendered less than
useful both by state law and drought.
Through a series of regulations
in recent years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has attempted
to shape other states in California's
image. This has created conditions
that force the closure of coal-fired
generation, causing an absurd-and
probably unsustainable-ramping up
of dependence on natural gas and
stacking the deck in favor of solar
and wind power. Some, including the
Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE), have argued that policymakers should fully acknowledge the
consequences of California's energy
policies if they intend to take other
states down the same path. Consumers deserve to know the whole story.
Through legislative mandates,
California has painted itself into a
dangerous corner, and the only way
out is likely to be higher prices and
more imports. The state already imports as much electricity as the six
New England states consume combined. It already leads the nation in
power outages. It already forces its
electricity customers to pay significantly more for the same amount of
electricity than their counterparts nationwide. With its current mandate,
that is likely to get worse. Should De
Leon's bill pass, who knows what
catastrophe lies ahead for the state's
power system?
In March 2013, we wrote in a
PACE column, "On energy issues, California isn't a beacon of progress; it's a
lighthouse, showing the path to disaster." Four years later, that light burns
just a bit brighter. Hopefully, sensible
observers will choose another, more
appropriate path forward.
Lance Brown is executive director
of the Alabama-based Partnership for
Affordable Clean Energy (PACE).
GEORGIA MAGAZINE


http://www.georgiamagazine.org

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Georgia Magazine - April 2017

Contents
Georgia Magazine - April 2017 - Intro
Georgia Magazine - April 2017 - Cover1
Georgia Magazine - April 2017 - Cover2
Georgia Magazine - April 2017 - 3
Georgia Magazine - April 2017 - Contents
Georgia Magazine - April 2017 - 5
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