California seizing electricity from other states

California is reeling from decades of bad energy policy, and it is now expecting residents living in saner states to pay for their mistakes.

On Friday, July 9, 2021, and Saturday, July 10th, California’s Independent System Operator issued emergency “flex alerts” urging residents to conserve power during the evenings to avoid rolling blackouts.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a wildfire in Oregon threatened transmission lines that import thousands of megawatts of hydropower that are needed when the sun starts to go down.

The California Public Utilities Commission ordered CAISO last month to procure more power for evening hours this summer due to reduced hydropower generation and imports caused by drought. It’s not clear where Caiso plans to get the power since supply is expected to be tight across the Western U.S. for the same reasons.

Rest assured, CAISO has a back-up plan: Snatch energy headed elsewhere. Caiso manages interconnections between utilities and power providers across the Western U.S. For instance, Arizona utilities contract with hydropower plants in the Northwest for power that is transmitted through California.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) late last month approved a request by Caiso to prioritize electricity moving through California to meet its own demands during emergencies. This will allow Caiso to override utility contracts and expropriate power destined for other states.

The ruling by FERC is stunning. Chuck Devore, the president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, writes in The Federalist:

California’s politically driven renewable energy mandates are likely to cause more blackouts this summer outside of California after a remarkable ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that allows California to hijack electricity that Arizona already contracted to receive.

Fearful of blackouts this summer that might affect the Sept. 14 recall election targeting Gov. Gavin Newsom, California’s grid operators are buying up power around the West. This prompted Arizona officials to warn that California’s actions may lead to blackouts in Arizona, with Arizona Corporation Commission Chairwoman Lea Márquez Peterson blasting the late June FERC decision to prioritize electric utilities in California over those of other Western states.

Tucson Electric Power and Arizona Public Service, two Arizona utilities, specifically warned that California was “exporting its reliability issues which are the result of dynamics within (California) to the rest of the West.” 

California’s special treatment resulted in Chairwoman Peterson blasting the FERC decision in a scathing statement:

“Our electric utilities did the right thing and planned ahead, securing pre-negotiated contracts with utilities in the Pacific Northwest to ensure that critical hydropower would be available to Arizonans when it would be needed the most,” Arizona Corporation Commission Chairwoman Lea Márquez Peterson recently noted.

The Wall Street Journal continues:

FERC is saving California’s politicians from their green energy profligacy, and its ruling may cause power shortages across other Western states. Residents in other states may also have to pay more for power on the spot market. Utilities and their regulators in Nevada, Arizona, Oregon and New Mexico have protested California’s power grab.

These states have also become more dependent on solar to meet their climate goals. Renewable energy poses a systemic risk to the grid that can’t be mitigated by merely building more transmission lines. If states like Arizona and Nevada were to import wind power from the Midwest, they’d still be vulnerable to the vagaries of weather.

Climate irony alert: States are likely to lean on coal this summer as they scramble to keep the power on. Fossil fuels saved Californians this weekend as Gov. Gavin Newsom waived air quality regulations to allow gas-fired and diesel generators to run all out. “We recognize these are transitional days and months and years for the California grid,” Caiso CEO Elliot Mainzer said Friday.

California’s theft of electricity is a classic case of progressive policy failures pushing the negative consequences of their actions onto others. As American Experiment has stated many, many times before, California is an example of what not to do.