The old and the new came into play when California’s power demand hit record levels.
Authorities in California averted widespread rolling electricity blackouts on September 6, 2022 using a combination of fossil fuel sourced emergency power generation and a well-timed, adeptly executed emergency text message that dropped power usage just as power demand was peaking at critical levels.
While it can be legitimately argued that California’s power woes are to a large degree self-inflicted; credit should be given where credit is due: the state used its aging fossil fuel powered infrastructure when it was needed, and it made deft use of today’s modern technology to communicate to citizens who willingly implemented energy saving steps that saved the day. Kudos to all-for now.
The fact remains that California went almost 14 years before it broke the Peak Load Megawatt use record set in 2006. Fourteen years is a long time; in fact, it’s plenty of time in which to prepare for the inevitable breach of the old electricity demand record and the setting of a new one. California, much like Texas, has for years spent its efforts admirably on the build-out and incentivization of alternate forms of electricity production, with a particular emphasis on solar and wind power. But the current heat wave is testing the reliability of California’s renewable energy grid, in much the same way that the Texas electric grid was tested by extreme cold and ice in the winter of 2021.
Both states made a true commitment to alternative energy generation, which is a good thing, but both states did it too soon and too fast at the expense of traditional sources of carbon and nuclear based energy sources, which, like it or not, are still a much needed part of the energy mix.
California, of course, has a huge weather advantage over Texas in that it does not have vast amounts of oil and gas production that become incapacitated during extreme cold snaps like happened in Texas in February 2021. The Texas problem at the time was exacerbated by the dual issues of the reduction of wind and solar power due to ice and cloud cover, combined with the fact that natural gas and crude oil wells were frozen and couldn’t supply some of the fossil fuel based generation facilities being used to supplement the grid. California has no such problem; its main issue is the much too rapid, and very intentional, disincentivization of the old to make way for the new.
Both California and Texas are facing the consequences of too rapid a shift toward heavy reliance on alternative sources of energy that are simply not yet as reliable as traditional carbon and nuclear based facilities. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the shift toward alternatives in both principle and practice, but the headlong rush by both states to do so, without adequately considering and protecting the existing old school methods and infrastructure of power generation, has resulted in very real consequences that are uncomfortable and downright dangerous for their residents.
Lawmakers and citizens of every state need to look to California and Texas for valuable lessons learned: policies that promote renewable energy sources and punish traditional carbon based sources can be dangerous if the pace is too fast and too comprehensive based upon current and projected energy needs. What matters most to public safety is balancing the reliability of our energy sources with the current total demand for that energy in extreme circumstances. Policy makers in every state need to avoid the mistakes of Texas and California, and their citizens need to hold them accountable.