California is reduced to third-world status

Although I left California some time ago, I'm still connected to alerts from the emergency services in my former Bay Area home.  That's how I first learned that California has been suffering from rolling blackouts as citizens try to cope with a heat wave.

The text messages, which come from, from PG&E, and from local law enforcement, have been pinging my phone non-stop all weekend.  The first message alerting me to a warning from PG&E, which provides power to the northern two thirds of California, covering 5.2 million households, arrived this past Friday:

Given Strain on Power Grid During Excessive Heat, PG&E Begins Rotating Power Outages at Direction of State Grid Operator- Outages Expected to Affect Approximately 200-250k Customers in Rotations of About One Hour Each - PG&E Is Not Calling A PSPS [Public Safety Power Shutoff].

PG&E's News Releases page has all of the messages that it's been sending to its customers over the past three days.  On Saturday, August 15, this message went out:

Rotating Power Outages Could Happen Saturday Night from 5:00 to 10:00 PM; California Grid Operator Monitoring Statewide Energy Usage, Coordinating with PG&E and the State's Other Electric Utilities

Sure enough, that same day, the power went out:

Outages Expected to Affect Approximately 220,000 Customers; Customers Encouraged to Conserve Electricity through Wednesday Night; PG&E Is Not Calling A Public Safety Power Shutoff

The problems for Bay Area residents continued on Sunday.  First, those residents who have A/C (which is something of a rarity in the foggier parts of the Bay Area) were warned to swelter rather than use electricity:

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) continues to urge customers to conserve energy as above-normal temperatures continue to dominate across the service area today and are expected to continue at least through the middle of the week. Conservation is the best way customers can help prevent stress and strain on the electric supply that could lead to power outages for some electric customers.

Later that day, residents were warned that their power was going to be shut down again:

Outages Expected to Affect Approximately 210,000 Customers in portions of San Francisco, San Mateo and Contra Costa Counties; Customers Strongly Urged to Conserve Electricity through Wednesday Night; PG&E Is Not Calling A Public Safety Power Shutoff

It didn't have to be this way.  Once upon a time, California had a power grid that was large enough to serve the state's population.  As the population grew, though, the grid did not.

Additionally, California had five nuclear power plants that helped provide stable energy. Two years ago, though, the California Public Utilities Commission voted to close the last nuclear power plant in California, which PG&E owned, although that plant will remain online until 2025.  These closings flowed directly from (1) hostility to nuclear power and (2) the green energy movement:

"With this timing in mind, and this decision today, we chart a new energy future," Commissioner Michael Picker said at the meeting, according to the Tribune. "We agree the time has come."

"It moves California away from the era of nuclear power and toward the era of zero-carbon renewable energy," said Commissioner Liane M. Randolph. "I will be voting in favor."

The four other nuclear power plants had all closed by 2013.  California currently has

  • 6 battery storage power stations
  • 20 biomass power stations (which burn plant matter, depleting land available for edible crops)
  • 1 coal station
  • 7 geothermal stations
  • 53 hydroelectric stations (which work when water flows)
  • 7 pumped storage stations (which augment electric capacity)
  • 72 natural gas stations
  • 1 nuclear plant
  • 2 petroleum stations
  • 32 solar power stations
  • 4 thermal stations
  • 16 wind farms (which work when the wind blows).

The only new construction planned is for three solar-powered stations.  These numbers show that, albeit slowly, California is moving to a future of green energy.  The rolling power outages, however, suggest that green energy isn't quite up to snuff, and, indeed, the news bears this out (emphasis added):

"Extreme heat is really the driver behind this," said Anne Gonzales, spokeswoman for the power grid operator.

The move came as temperatures around the state hit triple digits in many areas, and air conditioning use soared.

Temperatures were 10 to 20 degrees above normal in some areas, Gonzales said.

In addition, cloudy weather from the remnants of a tropical weather system reduced power generation from solar plants, she said.

Power is only as good as it is reliable.  When you have a power system that works only when the sun shines, the wind blows, and the water flows, you don't have a power system at all.

Mike Shellenberger, who lives in Berkeley, has been tweeting about the problem — and the foolishness of the politicians who support it:

California is a preview of coming attractions if we hand Washington, D.C. back to the Democrats.  For those of you who live in regions with extremely hot summers or extremely cold winters, prepare to be cast back to a pre-modern world of unbearable heat in the summer and deadly cold in the winter.

Image: Part of the 354 MW Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS) parabolic trough solar complex in northern San Bernardino County, California, by the Bureau of Land Management; public domain.