Tuesday, 20 March, 2001
California Energy Situation
I find the energy situation in California somewhat amusing. No, I'm not laughing at the potential loss of life if power is cut to a hospital or some old folks can't turn on their air conditioning come June. What makes me laugh is that Californians have for years obstructed construction of new power plants, preferring to buy power from out-of-state suppliers in order to keep the associated environmental effects (real or imagined) out of California. And then they scream for Federal intervention when those out-of-state suppliers raise the prices in response to an ever-increasing demand and a falling supply. It's not as if nobody saw this coming. Some people in California have been warning about this for years. When I heard that the "deregulation" regulations prevent PG&E and Southern California Edison from passing the higher costs on to their customers, I started rolling on the floor. Not only do Californians expect somebody else to pay the environmental price of their voracious power appetites, they expect the supply to be cheap, plentiful, and uninterrupted, regardless of what it actually costs to produce or obtain. Is it any wonder that PG&E and Edison have racked up $13 billion in debt over the last 8 months? The state is now paying $50 million per day to keep Californians' televisions turned on.
Here's the one that almost made me pee in my pants. Californians now are offering a coal-fired power plant in Utah billions of dollars to expand, and want an exclusive contract on the additional generating capacity. At the same time, community groups and environmentalists all over the state are blocking proposed construction of small, clean, natural gas fired plants that could provide inexpensive, reliable, and uninterrupted power to local areas. Environmentalists are also blocking exploration and development of regional natural gas and oil, and scream bloody murder if anybody even suggests a new nuclear power plant or hydroelectric dam. And they keep sucking down those megawatts. There are almost 34 million people in California. If they turned off one 100 Watt light bulb per person, they could save 3,400 megawatts. That much power savings would have prevented Monday's rolling blackouts. Do you doubt that with very little effort they could more than triple that savings at no real inconvenience?
Conservation efforts can only go so far, though, and power demand will continue to increase. At some point Californians will have to make a choice: stop consuming or start producing. If you want to maintain your "not in my back yard" approach to power generation, that's just fine. Just don't come crying to me when nobody else wants to generate your power, either.