California’s Green Power Crisis

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It’s almost impossible to over-estimate how foolish California legislators can be, but perhaps even they can come to grips with the fact that forcing energy prices up in a state that’s strapped for cash and bleeding jobs is a very bad idea. All the more so since both wind and solar power are so horribly unreliable.

The efficiency of a power plant is measured by the metric called “capacity factor.” Capacity factor, expressed as a percentage, compares how much power a given plant generates to how much it could have generated, if operating at maximum load 365 days per year. So, if a 1,000 megawatt plant generates an average of 850 megawatts annually, it is said to be operating at an 85% capacity factor.

Most nuclear plants operate at capacity factors that exceed 90%. Coal plants usually operate at capacity factors around 60% to 80%. According to the Department of Energy, the average capacity factor for wind power plants is less than 20% and solar is even worse. This also makes the cost of these forms of energy even more expensive, for the vast majority of the time they aren’t generating electricity and they aren’t generating income.

Because wind and solar power are so unreliable, the amount of “rolling reserve” required to keep the grid stable increases as well. There is always the chance that a substantial portion of wind and solar could suddenly shut down, endangering the stability of the grid. (This actually happened in Texas in 2008 when over 1,000 MW of wind power shut down when the wind suddenly died). The Independent System Operators who run the grid are required to plan for such eventualities. The only way to do so is through increasing the percentage of rolling reserve in the form of power plants – usually gas-fired – that act as a back-up. This is another hidden cost of solar and wind power. The more we build solar and wind farms, the more we need to invest in other power plants that exist solely to paper over the failings of renewable energy providers.

There are forms of renewable energy that make sense, like using landfill gas for fuel, hydroelectric plants, waste-to-energy and certain forms of biomass that don’t compete with food crops. These are energy sources that can and do compete with fossil fuels in the free market. Wind and solar, on the other hand, are extensive boondoggles that require a steady-stream of taxpayer dollars to survive. California is just coming to grips with that fact, just as the rest of the nation will be forced to do the same, sooner than anyone realizes.

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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 ?


      • 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."

        • 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.