Utopian energy fantasies are turning California (CA) into a dystopian nightmare. CA’s energy policies amount to a bold suicide plan worthy of a collective Darwin award.
Traditional Darwin Awards honor people who improve the human gene pool by unintentionally removing themselves from it—like the guy who fatally attempted DIY bungee jumping from a bridge shorter than his bungee cord.
I propose another category of Darwin Awards for entire groups of people (teams, companies, countries…) whose foolish behavior curtails their existence. Examples include Enron, Venezuela, and the former Soviet Union.
Venezuela, for instance, enacted policies that killed its economy. It went from being one of the world’s richest oil economies to being an economic and political wasteland with 77% of its population living in extreme poverty.
CA has adopted a bold energy suicide plan that will earn it a place alongside Venezuela. If CA stays on its current energy trajectory, many businesses will close or move out of state in the next 20 years. People will flee, and the real estate market will crash.
CA residents who can’t leave will face higher taxes, power rationing, and limited access to clean water. Weekly blackouts will likely force households and businesses to pay two electric bills: one to the utility, and another to black-market syndicates that operate diesel-fired generators.
Supporters of CA’s plan complain that it’s unfair to honor CA with a Darwin Award for an imagined future that hasn’t yet (and might not) come to pass. But Californians don’t have to wait 20 years to feel the pain. They’re feeling it now.
CA has the highest poverty rate in America, and rising energy cost is a growing part of the problem. From 2010 to 2020, CA’s electricity rates rose almost seven times faster than the US average. Over 3.3 million CA households have past-due utility bills that together total $1.2 billion.
CA’s decision to shift energy production to solar and wind has made energy prices soar and increased the fragility of its electrical grid. The unreliability of solar and wind power was among the three primary factors causing CA’s blackouts in 2020.
Things are going to get worse. CA leaders decided to prematurely shut down Diablo Canyon–the state’s last remaining nuclear power plant—even though nuclear power is the safest, most powerful, and most reliable way to generate low-emissions electricity.
Diablo Canyon accounts for nearly 10% of CA’s electricity production. Its 2025 shutdown will leave a gaping hole in CA’s baseload power. Policymakers hope to fill the hole with a mix of solar, wind, and batteries. But that hope is unrealistic for five reasons.
- Solar and wind are unreliable. The sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow.
- Batteries cost too much. CA has only 3% of the battery storage it needs to replace 280 gigawatt-hours/day of natural gas during the summer. CA’s policies depend on a technological miracle to produce cheaper batteries.
- Using batteries to back up solar farms doubles the number of solar panels required. You need one set of panels to supply power to the grid while the sun is up, and another to charge batteries for when the sun goes down.
- CA can’t build transmission lines fast enough to meet its mandate of 100% renewable power by 2045. Current grid capacity needs to almost triple in size, but Californians fiercely oppose constructing power lines, which makes building them practically impossible.
- The cost of converting the grid to run on solar, wind, and batteries is $500B to $1T. Households will face a hard choice between paying thousands of dollars a month for electricity or suffering energy poverty.
On top of all that, CA’s electric grid wasn’t designed to charge millions of electric vehicles.
But the state will require nearly 1 million new cars and passenger trucks sold in CA each year to be zero-emission by 2035.
More than 50 CA cities and counties have adopted building codes to restrict natural gas. Banning natural gas and attempting to electrify everything concentrates energy risks on the grid–a grid that wasn’t designed to shoulder the additional load now carried by natural gas during the winter.
CA currently imports about 28% of its electricity from other states. On hot days, the neighboring states will need the energy themselves, so CA will be forced to cut power to homes and businesses.
Expensive energy also means expensive water. Nearly 20% of CA’s electricity use goes to pump and treat water. Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley won’t be able to afford to irrigate their crops. CA will go from being the breadbasket of the world to importing most of its food.
CA’s energy policy is supposed to be a model for the world. It is. It’s a model of what not to do. CA’s energy policies all but guarantee high energy prices, power blackouts, and a crashing economy. These policies are why CA truly deserves a Darwin Award. Every day spent chasing energy fantasies causes unnecessary suffering.
What CA Needs To Do:
- Renew licenses for Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant
- End subsidies and incentives for solar and wind
- Build new efficient natural gas power plants (and hydro and geothermal where possible)
- Reform regulations and build nuclear power plants
- Invest in energy R&D
If CA takes these steps, it can avoid disaster.