Smoking Out the Golden State’s Green Utopia
Into the grandest of fantasies, reality intrudes. And so, it may be that Mother Nature in the form of annual forest fires, will force a key California agency to face reality and modify the overly ambitious and unrealistic renewable energy fantasy that has characterized the state’s energy planning for a decade.
On Sept. 1, the California State Water Board will have to decide whether the four natural gas plants that provide desperately needed power in energy-short California must be shuttered or whether to grant them an extension in the midst of devastating state electricity blackouts by amending the policy use of on coastal waters for power plant cooling. .
There are four natural gas plants along California’s coast, in areas much desirable to developers: Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Oxnard and Redondo Beach. Because they rely on seawater cooling they are deemed environmentally unsound. The Clean Water Act requires the location, design and construction, and capacity of cooling water intake structures reflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact, but there are no applicable nationwide standards implementing this section for existing power plants.
That task in California fell to the California Water Board. It determined that these four plants had not been able to comply with the Board ruling in 2010 that they had to create power without use of seawater cooling, and they were unable to do so. The companies involved begged for extensions citing the drastic shortfall if they were decommissioned. All four were slated to close early this decade. The largest, in Redondo Beach was to close in 2023 and has asked for an additional year. The other three plants have asked for three-year extensions. (In February of this year, the state began dismantling of the its sole nuclear power plant, San Onofre.)
Up to now their efforts for further extensions seemed unlikely to succeed, but policy makers considered the impossibility of compliance in a time of no great consequence. California planned to have 60 percent of all its power needs produced by “green” sources by 2030 and 100 percent by 2045. Unfortunately this best laid plans were hindered by the inability to increase battery capacity to store solar power overnight when the sun doesn’t shine, or wind power when the wind doesn’t blow.
Oh, and then there’s the perfectly predictable problem than when it gets hot in California people need air conditioning, and when it gets dry in California there are massive forest fires which block the sunlight. This summer those perfectly predictable events occurred and the state is now suffering rolling blackouts — certainly uncomfortable, if not dangerous, for many people and disruptive to industries already in trouble because of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s one-party state lockdowns and other environmental, tax, transportation, housing, immigration ,law enforcement, employment, and assorted budgetary idiocies.
So next Tuesday, the Control Board is faced with a dilemma: should they amend their regulations to permit the Huntington Beach, Long Beach and Oxnard plant to stay open for another three years and the Redondo plant for another additional year? Naturally, environmentalists are opposing the extensions.
City leaders where the plants are located also are opposing the extensions; Redondo Beach, for example, has already made plans for the site with a mixed-use developer and the mayor, Bill Brand has, according to reporters covering the story, staked “his legacy on getting the plant removed,” which may be delayed. Other plant owners have sweetened the pot with expensive concessions to sway local politicians. Also fighting any extension are citizens living near the plants because if the plants go and are replaced with more desirable structures their property values will increase.
So the board is facing a lot of pressure to sacrifice electric reliability—in fact, cause even more disruption to the already failing electrical power supply, or satisfy the environmentalists, citizens and political interests in shutting down the plants on schedule. As their proposed final amendment states “the compliance dates in this Policy may require amendment based on, among other things, the need to maintain reliability of the electrical system.”
This may sound technical, and you may think that Californians deserve to sit in the dark for electing such bad policymakers, but perhaps the plaint of its citizens so well-documented by Victor Davis Hanson might make clear the human suffering caused by such ill-conceived proscriptions by the neo-feudalist democrats who run the state.
We can expect power outages, because we don’t believe in releasing clean heat to make energy. Note that we do not mind people heating up in their 108-degree apartments without power. The planet is always more important than the non-privileged people who inhabit it.
For some reason, solar panels don’t create much power when the state is engulfed in dust, haze, and smoke.
Note the synergism of the California postmodern apocalypse: The hotter it gets, the more fires burn on ecological fuel and hillside natural “compost,” the smokier the air becomes, the less efficiently California’s solar pathway to the future generates, the more power outages ensue, the more real people are put in danger from either being incinerated by fire or suffocated by smoke or boiled inside without air conditioning.
Last week, I asked an elderly patient at the allergy clinic whether, in the 108-degree heat, he preferred to stay outside to breathe smoke and haze, or stay inside his uncooled apartment. He gave a novel answer: He didn’t care about the power outages since he couldn’t pay the exorbitant electricity charges anyway to turn on his air conditioner. And he added that, in California these days, you can’t tell whether mask wearers are fighting the virus, the smoke, or the police.
Davis says Newsom is worried about the state’s “Frankensteinian Green New Deal,” which the Governor earlier helped create: “We cannot sacrifice reliability as we move on,’” Newsom said.
Davis translates this as something like “we built so many subsidized solar and wind farms, and retired or canceled so many clean-burning natural-gas power plants, that we don’t have enough electricity for 40 million sweltering residents when the annual green napalm hits, who would have figured?”
So, how will the Board vote on Tuesday? Before the electric grid failed, probably they’d have denied the extension, but now their hand may be forced into being pragmatic and approving them. It doesn’t hurt that the governor has signaled his concern about even more electrical power disruptions.
Clarice Feldman is a retired attorney living in Washington, D.C. During her legal career she represented the late labor leader Joseph (“Jock”) Yablonski and the reform mine workers against Tony Boyle. She served as an attorney with the Department of Justice Office of Special Investigations, in which role she prosecuted those who aided the Nazis in World War II. She has written for The Weekly Standard and is a regular contributor to American Thinker.
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