California is Still Struggling to Keep the Lights On

In Mid-August, more than two million California families and businesses lost their electricity during a record-breaking heat wave because the sun was setting, rending The Golden State’s fleet of solar panels unable to generate electricity. Decades of bad energy policy had left the state with too few sources of reliable electricity. Blackouts, or rather “greenouts,” ensued.

Since that time, there have not been more blackouts, but there have been several very close calls, including over Labor Day weekend.

Last weekend again brought scorching temperatures to the Southwest, and the California grid operator, the California Independent Systems Operator, pleaded with residents to voluntarily reduce their electricity consumption during 3pm and 9pm to prevent an electricity shortage from triggering widespread blackouts.

The reason for the electricity shortage is California’s over dependence on solar panels. Everyday, California loses 27,897 megawatts of solar power, according to the main trade association for the solar industry. For context, this is the equivalent of California losing nearly 12.5 of the largest power plants in Minnesota, the Sherburne County coal plant.

The shortage of electricity essentially led to widespread, voluntary brownouts. People were asked to cool their houses, charge their cars, do their laundry, and wash their clothes before 3pm, when the sun starts to decline. After 3pm, people were asked to set their thermostats to 78, or higher, use fans instead of air conditioning, turn off any “unnecessary” lights, and unplug any appliances that are not in use.

Is this the kind of world Minnesotans want to live in? One in which we must severely reduce, or stop using, electricity or risk losing our electricity? Like it or not, this is where we are headed as utilities and wind and solar special interest groups like Fresh Energy advocate for benign sounding policies like “energy efficiency” and “demand response.” While the name of these programs may be unassuming, in the real world, they are essentially the opposite of the Motel 6 slogan:

“Demand Response, we’ll turn the lights out on you.”

It is vitally important for all Minnesotans to understand that wind and solar advocates understand that there will be shortages of electricity due to the fact that renewables are unreliable, and that they are OK with it. In fact, they actually see it as a benefit.

Instead of shutting off the power to Minnesota families and businesses when they need it most, we should build our grid to be capable of providing as much reliable, affordable electricity as we could ever want to use. To do this, Xcel Energy should use their coal plants, which produce some of the lowest cost electricity in the state, and their nuclear plants for as long as possible.

After these plants have reached the end of their useful lifetime, Xcel should either look to new nuclear power plants or natural gas to provide abundant, reliable, and affordable energy.