California’s Green Power Crisis


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Among the many difficulties that the state of California has been facing, one in particular is looming larger and larger: the power problem. The state is slowly coming to grips with the fact that its preferred sources of electric power – wind and solar – are neither cheap nor reliable. Yet, California is committed by law to increasing the use of wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy. The economics don’t come close to supporting this model. And so – quite predictably – the folks who operate the wind mills and solar plants want Californians to pay even more for the power, despite the fact that residents of the state pay some of the highest rates in the nation.

According to Department of Energy data, Californians paid an average of 14.74 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2010, compared to the national average of 11.51 cents per kilowatt-hour. Prices have risen by almost fifty percent over the course of the last decade, and a study by Bloom Energy suggests that prices will continue to rise by five to seven percent per year for the foreseeable future. Overall, only five other states in the nation have higher electricity costs than California. Energy is getting more and more expensive just at the time the cash-strapped state can least afford it.

How did California arrive at this crisis point? It started when the legislature decided to adopt a Renewable Portfolio Standard, or “RPS,” for the state. Like most RPS programs (thirty-three states currently have them) California’s mandates the use of more and more renewable power to generate electricity each year. The intent, of course, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil fuel combustion.

California’s RPS is especially aggressive, with a requirement that thirty-three percent of the electricity sold in the state originate from renewable sources of energy by the year 2020. Other states that have adopted RPS require lower renewable percentages (twenty to twenty-five percent is typical) and the final compliance dates are farther out. That doesn’t mean that the other RPS states won’t face the same kind of problems that California is dealing with, it just means that the day of reckoning won’t arrive quite as quickly as it has in the Golden State.

The leftist myth is that wind power and solar power are “free,” because you don’t have to pay for the energy sources. The reality is quite different. While the energy source doesn’t cost anything, all of the other things that factor into the cost of this kind of power are expensive. First there’s the installed cost of the plant. According to Department of Energy figures, the installed cost of a wind turbine is about on par with building a new coal plant, on a dollars-per-kilowatt generated basis. The installed cost of solar is about four times that of a coal plant, and almost ten times that of a natural gas-fired plant. So, before a single electron goes anywhere, the operator has debt-service to factor into his pricing.

Then there’s the cost of the infrastructure needed to get the power to market. This means new transmissions lines, switchyards and all of the other pieces needed whenever power plants are built. But, the infrastructure is especially expensive because the footprints of wind farms are so large, as compared to a conventional fossil-fuel plant. The large footprint (and relative inaccessibility of wind turbines) also drives up maintenance costs. Add everything up and wind and solar power cannot compete with conventional sources of power in the free market.

The wind and solar industries have heretofore thrived thanks to government subsidies and Renewable Energy Tax Credits. The taxpayer effectively generates roughly one-third of the gross revenue that wind and solar power plants receive, far more than any other portion of the energy sector. Absent that level of government support, wind and solar power plants could not survive given the price-structure that naturally arises in a competitive market. There is a real danger that an assertive Republican-led House will not approve another extension of Renewable Energy Tax Credits in the coming year. Without that program, the wind and solar industries in California will die on the vine, no matter what the state’s RPS demands are. Thus the wind and solar lobbies are pushing legislators hard to approve legislation that will force consumers to pay a premium for their particular forms of power. They can see the writing on the wall: the D.C. gravy train is drying up, so it’s time for Plan B.

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  • al222

    the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine all the time–meaning back up power sources are a necessity. anyone with a rational mind ought to realize that the enormous level of redundancy required to "keep the lights on" should be a non-starter. is anyone in CA remotely rational anymore?

    • trickyblain

      "is anyone in CA remotely rational anymore?"

      This Website is published by people who, almost exclusively, live in CA. So I see your point. But, yes, there are.

  • Angus

    Why doesn't anyone talk about hydro-electric anymore? Water has been powering civilization for thousands of years now. I may be mistaken but doesn't even MSNBC consider Hoover dam a success.

    • Raymond in DC

      It's not talked about because most of the potential hydro power is already being exploited in the US. The bigger issue is the *busting* of dams, reflecting a desire of some to return tamed rivers to their "natural" state. If we want to satisfy our need for more power, natural gas and nuclear plants are the way forward.

    • MinnieM

      Back in the 1980s Envoronmentalist were on a campaign to tear down the hydroelectric generating dams we now have, claiming they were harming the fish.

  • topperj

    Not to mention all the dead and wounded flying things that get chopped to pieces by these monstrosities.

  • Rifleman

    The windmill in the picture doesn't look like a clean energy source to me.

    • trickyblain

      lol – no. It doesn't

      But, outside of a small aircraft, what the hell could do that to the blade? And why is it burning like a fuel fire from the blade when there's nothing in the blade to fuel a fuel fire ?

      Cough….Photoshop…cough.

      • JoJoJams

        I've seen many of your posts, trickyblain, and it's obvious you don't know how to google for facts much. Here's a paragraph from an industry friendly site concerned about the large amount of turbine fires, as well as the link, which took all of 10 seconds to find.

        "The majority of turbine fires are started by a lightning strike, brought about by their exposed and often high-altitude location and the height of the structure; turbines are now being built that are up to 320 feet high. Mechanical failure or electrical malfunction also account for a significant percentage of fires that can be fuelled by up to 200 gallons of hydraulic fluid and lubricants in the nacelle, which itself is constructed from highly-flammable resin and glass fiber. Internal insulation in the nacelle, which can become contaminated by oil deposits, add to the fuel load."
        http://www.windsystemsmag.com/article/detail/136/

        • trickyblain

          I confess that I was remiss in fact-checking for that tougue-in-cheek response to my old friend, Rfileman. Thanks for the info — interesting! A lightning strike is quite plausible!

          And please forgive my jumping to the conclusions about Photoshop. FPM, indeed publishes photoshopped images very often (see: the images of angy Muslims with signs containing photoshopped messages).

      • Rifleman

        Lol, getting checked for a hernia Tricky?
        My first guesses would be a bad bearing overheating or bad wiring igniting the plastic in it. If it's bad wiring, the generater would keep it arcing as long as the blade turned. Speaking from unfortunate experience, if a car battery comes loose and pinches the alternator cable, it will generate an arc strong enough to melt a metal pully or two causing an impressive engine compartment fire (Luckily for me, I keep a fire extinguisher in the trunk).

        I'd think they'd have those things grounded well enough to handle a lightning strike, but i wouldn't bet my paycheck on it.

  • Deanr

    Big oil probably saved the whale. Maybe it'll save the desert, too. Beautiful landscapes are lost, and the desert scraped clean under solar energy footprints. Giant windmills aren't lovely either. They kill the ( ) out of birds.

  • RachelP

    I'm going to address one element that is always left out of these discussions: while I agree that utility grade solar plants are costly and the jury is still out on their efficacy, "going green" is NOT why homeowners purchase solar. They do so purely for cost autonomy. Rooftop solar is extremely cost effective, and a fantastic investment which is why so many home owners are opting to do it. Why pay someone else for what you can own yourself? We should all be encouraging tax credits for individuals who make this investment and who opt to insulate themselves from utility inflation completely.

  • Heather

    You also have to take into account enviromentalist. As this article says, solar power and wind turbine plants take up an massive amount of land; does anyone really think the enviromentalist are going to sit back while all this land is used?

    Just google "wind turbine protest" or "solar power protest" and you can see for yourself how many of these power plant projects are being protested.

    Liberals live in a world they create in their own minds. But then they oppose any of it when someone tries to stick a shovel in the ground and start digging to build it!

  • MinnieM

    The people behind this scam, and most of them have useless college degrees since they obviously have not been taught how to think beyond the end of their noses, believe that they can accomplish anything by government mandate. ie: pass a law saying you have to be converted to an alternate source of something whether there is technology available or not, and they think the mission is accomplished. Dumb, dumb, dumb.