More than a million Californians suffered power blackouts last Friday evening. When high temperatures caused customer demand to exceed the power available, California electrical utilities used rotating outages to force a reduction in demand. The California grid is the worst in the nation, with green energy policies pursued by the state likely furthering reduced grid reliability.
At 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Pacific Gas and Electric, California’s biggest utility, began shutting off power in rolling outages to force a reduction in demand. Southern California Edison also denied power to homes, beginning just before 7 p.m. Shutoffs impacted a rotating group of up to 2 million customers until 11 p.m.
The California Independent System Operator declared a Stage Three Electrical Emergency, the first such emergency since 2001. Spot electricity prices soared to more than $1,000 per megawatt-hour, more than 10 times the usual price.
In 2018, 19% of California’s electricity came from rooftop and utility-scale solar installations, the highest percentage in the nation. But by 6:30 p.m. each day, that solar output approaches zero. The state lacks enough reliable electricity generation capacity to run everyone’s air conditioner during hot summer evenings.
California has the least reliable electrical power system in the United States. It isn’t even close. According to data by Eaton Corporation, the Golden State leads the U.S. in power outages every year, with more than twice as many as any other state over the last decade.
The causes of power outages can be divided into four major groups. In order of importance, these are weather or downed trees, faulty equipment or human errors, unknowns, and vehicle accidents. California suffered the largest number of outages in each category in each year for 2014 through 2017.
For more than a decade, California has been closing coal and nuclear power plants. Recently, the state also began closing natural gas-fired plants as part of a continuing effort to fight global warming.
In 2006, Senate Bill 1368 established California’s Emissions Performance Standard, an effort to reduce state greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Since 2007, 11 in-state, coal-fired plants have been closed as a result, with an additional three converted to biomass fuel. California also slashed imports of electricity generated from coal plants. The Argus Cogen plant in Trona is the last remaining coal-fired plant.
California nuclear plants, though not emitters of greenhouse gases, are also being phased out. The second and third units of the San Onofre nuclear generating plant near Los Angeles ceased operation in 2013. The Diablo Canyon plant, the last nuclear plant in California, is scheduled for closure in 2025.
Driven by state efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, gas-fired plants are also being shuttered. Natural gas generating capacity has fallen by more than 10% since 2013, with additional reductions planned.
Following the blackouts last Friday night, blackouts resumed at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. Power officials blamed the loss of 1,000 megawatts of wind power on the wind subsiding and the unexpected shutdown of a 470-megawatt power plant. It’s clear that the state does not have enough reliable baseload power as backup for intermittent wind and solar energy.
The problem of California’s poor electric reliability will likely get worse. On Sept. 10, 2018, then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 100, committing California to obtain 100% of its electricity from “clean energy sources” by 2045. Replacement of coal, nuclear, and natural gas generators with wind and solar will continue to erode grid reliability.
As part of global warming efforts, officials want all citizens to switch their natural gas stoves and furnaces to electric models. More than 30 California cities have enacted bans on gas appliances, including the major cities of San Francisco and San Jose. Almost 10% of the state population now lives in an area covered by restrictions against gas appliances in new residential construction.
California also wants residents to transition from gasoline- and diesel-powered cars and trucks to plug-in electric models. So, when those blackouts occur in the future, not only will your lights and air conditioners fail, but you won’t be able to cook your food or drive your car either.
California sacrificed reliable electrical power on the altar of the fight against global warming. There is no evidence that state efforts will have the slightest effect on global temperatures, but they will be great for candle and flashlight sales.