DALLAS — Outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown wants to be remembered as an environmental warrior — regardless of how much it costs Golden State residents and businesses.
The governor just signed legislation requiring utilities to generate 60 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030, with a goal of phasing out all fossil fuels by 2045.
Then he headed to the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco for a victory lap, where he boasted that the state would launch its “own damn satellite” to track “climate pollutants” — apparently trying to outdo NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, which has been doing just that since 2014.
Even though California’s per-person carbon emission rate is fairly low, it’s the second largest state emitter of carbon dioxide, according to the government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Ironically, given the cleaner-than-thou rhetoric coming from the governor, California’s reduction in hydropower meant its reliance on non-carbon sources for electricity generation actually fell between 2000 and 2015, from 78 billion kilowatt-hours to 59 billion, according to the EIA.
By contrast, oil and natural gas mega-producer Texas more than doubled its renewable energy usage from 39 billion kilowatt hours in 2000 to 86 billion in 2015, and nearly all of the increase was from wind power.
That should indicate that fossil fuels and renewable energy aren’t contradictory, they’re complimentary — and will have to be for decades to come.
Although California has in recent years significantly increased its reliance on wind and solar power for electricity generation — especially solar, where it has become the national leader — both wind and solar power are sporadic, producing electricity only when the wind blows and the sun shines.
Brown hopes to address that intermittency problem by transitioning to a regional electrical power grid that includes other western states — which, not coincidentally, use fossil fuels to create electricity.
That way, California can offload any additional renewable-based power during peak times for wind and sun, and then draw on fossil fuel-generated electricity to fill in the gaps.
Brown claims that unless he gets his regional power grid, California residents will have to pay a lot more for electricity. He’s got that right, but they’re already paying a lot more.
The EIA says the average retail price for electricity in California is 15.23 cents per kilowatt-hour — higher than all but six states. Unfortunately, Brown’s efforts will likely make California the most expensive state for electricity ratepayers, and he knows it. Sometimes it’s not good being No. 1.
Brown told an audience at the bill signing ceremony, “Those who don’t want (the regional grid) are going to be foisting very high prices on California.”
No, governor, it’s you who are foisting very high prices on Californians by pushing your all-renewable-energy dream, even as you try to hide the state’s reliance on fossil fuels.
A better solution would be for California to turn to “carbon capture” from natural gas.
The Associated Press reports that California has 54,000 active wells and is the 15th largest producer of natural gas among the states. Natural gas is already one of the cleanest burning fossil fuels, but a new generation of natural gas-powered generators hopes to remove all of the carbon.
One is just starting up in Texas. News and opinion website Vox reports that the company Net Power says it will be able to “generate power more efficiently than conventional power plants, in a smaller physical footprint, with zero air pollution, and capture the carbon — all at a capital cost below traditional power plants.”
That’s a tall order and it’s still a work in progress. But it’s much more believable — and doable — than Brown’s all-renewables power plants. And it might actually cost Californians less. Wouldn’t that be a change for the better?
Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation. He holds a Ph.D. in the Humanities from the University of Texas. Readers may write him at IPI, Suite 820, 1320 Greenway Drive, Irving, TX, 75038. This essay is available to Tribune News Service subscribers. TNS did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of TNS or its editors.
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