California Points Gun At Own Head, Pulls Trigger

From the Thin Green Line:

Earlier today, the California Assembly passed a bill that would oblige state utilities to get a third of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. It is one of the most aggressive standards in the world.

The Senate passed the legislation in February, and Governor Brown is expected to sign the bill.

How big a deal is it? Well, according to Peter Miller, a senior scientist at NRDC, "As a result of the RPS program, renewable energy generation in California in 2020 will be roughly equal to total current U.S. renewable generation, and supply enough clean energy to power nearly 9 million homes" or, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, drive 3 million cars.

This is an absolutely amazing case of wishful thinking.  Note the "will be" in the last paragraph.  Really?  Can I have the other side of that bet?  The California legislature can legislate a unicorn in every garage but that does not mean it will happen by 2020.

Forgetting for a moment the absolutely horrible cost and/or reliability position of most "green" energy technologies, there is no way, absolutely no way, that California can permit and construct a replacement for a third of its electric generation in 9 years.   And I shudder to even think how large of a broken window obsoleting and forcing replacement of a third of electrical generation capacity will be.

A final thought, via Dilbert:

  • ed

    Important missing fact: what percentage do they get from "renewable technologies" NOW? And does nuclear count?

  • MJ

    The California legislature can legislate a unicorn in every garage but that does not mean it will happen by 2020.

    Don't encourage them, Warren.

  • Matthew Brown

    I seem to remember an electric car mandate with similarly hopeful goals. I wonder what happened to it?

  • John Moore

    I find it amusing, in a schadenfreude sort of way, that the greenies are suing to stop three large solar-thermal plants in California. They can't even get out of their own way.

    We should sell them lots of coal fired power!

  • AsleepAtTheKeyboard

    So assuming that actually attaining this is impossible, what is the likely scenario? Will the bill be overturned, the deadline be continually pushed back, or will companies pay for the privilege of expanding the definition of "renewable"?

  • DMac

    What? That big pile of coal out back? Oh yeah, we 'renew' it every week, with a trainload from the east.

  • http://tjic.com TJIC

    This is a very easy mandate to achieve: just keep cutting the amount of electricity delivered to citizens until 1/3 of the total comes from renewable sources.

    Rolling brownouts ^H^H^H blackouts, here we come!

  • Fred

    Ready,
    Fire,
    Aim.

  • gn

    How many acres of solar generation would 1/3 of current (well, 2020 current with growth) generation require? Has to be huge... If they dont like that I guess they could line the entire cost with tidal generators. Or cover every hill with wind generators.

    Sometimes the sheer scope of a problem or mandate eludes the policy makers.

  • Kevin Jackson
  • Dave Boz

    @TJIC: I think you've touched on the actual (unstated) plan, which is to drastically reduce energy use. North Korea comes to mind as a society that probably represents the Greenies' ideal in terms of energy consumption per person.

    @gn: Someone did a calculation a while back (sorry, I can't locate it now) regarding conversion of the state of Texas to solar power. One of the authors' findings was that it would take (to use a convenient unit of measure) approximately one Connecticut of solar arrays to power the state of Texas.

  • marco73

    Just another feel good mandate that will be quietly overturned and ignored.
    If one wanted to be sinister, that law was just a red herring so that the legislature can keep the greenies at bay while they try to correct the fiscal mess in California. Or more probably, the legislature has no idea what they are doing.

  • philipo

    Wow, if negative energy could power a light bulb, we'd just have to plug in to all these comments. What is wrong with setting a goal, like getting to the moon in the 60s.
    Actually I'd have thought libertarians would have been all for solar power. It's a way of being independent of the grid, not having to do business with those government regulated utilities. But perhaps it's a bit too cutting edge for the average smug and comfortable libertarian.

  • caseyboy

    philipo, you must be trying to provoke the regulars. The land mass required to generate power is significant and you must build a network, "grid" to move the electricity from origin to consumption. As noted in a post above the "greenies" in CA are challenging a large solar network because of environmental concerns. This bill was passed for one of two reasons, totally symbolic gesture or cynical effort to assess penalties when utilities don't meet their renewable quota. Oh but it "feels" so good to pass legislation like this doesn't it?

  • jhc

    philipo

    You write as though libertarians are 'haters gonna hate'. That's not the problem. The problem is that a large fraction of libertarians are people with engineering backgrounds. I suspect this applies to Coyote readers to some degree. (It does to me, for example.)

    Regardless of the California Assembly's motives for this bill (symbolism, forced consumption reductions, ignorance, or all three), this goal is pretty laughable on its face from an engineering point of view. See Dave Boz's comment about needing a Connecticut-sized area to power Texas. How many Connecticut's would be needed to power CA?

    Your comparison to the Moon program of the 60s misses a point. This bill isn't the analog of a Moon shot project. It's the analog tearing down part of a working moon shot program to build a different, more politically correct moon shot program.

    Personally, I think getting off the grid would be great. And I check the ROI numbers periodically for powering my house with solar. (I first did this in the early 80s.) The numbers have improved over the last 30 years, but the payback is still multiple decades if I built a system to meet my peak demand.

  • Doug

    @ philipo: why must I respond only to YOUR challenge? Here's MY challenge to you: what if we made it our "moonshot challenge" to figure out how to economically extract shale oil from rock? Estimates are that there are TRILLIONS of barrels of oil locked up in this material. Why can't we make THAT the national challenge instead of covering over a large fraction of the nation's land mass to build these inefficient and highly unreliable "green energy" generators?

    Make me president and I will make shale oil recovery the nation's Manhattan Project.

    What's so wrong with MY goal?

  • http://therightsideofdave.blogspot.com/ Dave

    I can't get over the stupidity of the Legislators in California. If you are going to legislate the impossible dream the least they could do is dream big. These small minded folks can't even do that right.

    Great blog by the way!

  • Dr. T

    Warren Meyer said: "... there is no way... that California can permit and construct a replacement for a third of its electric generation in 9 years..."

    The law doesn't require construction of anything. It says that the utilities must supply one-third of their energy using renewable sources. The only way to meet the requirement is to dramatically cut electricity production from burning coal, oil, or natural gas. Californians will experience the joys of electricity rationing. The power companies will go out of business because they'll be generating much less electricity but won't be able to charge more for it because of government caps. Ironically, the use of electric cars will fall because there will be too little electricity to charge them. Rural and suburban residents will buy big gas-powered generators to keep their freezers, refrigerators, and air conditioners running. City residents will be shit-out-of-luck: their food will spoil and they'll roast. (I'm experiencing schadenfreude and loving it.)

    If the law is still in effect in 2020, I plan to buy hundreds of gas generators with good mufflers (so the neighbors don't hear them), ship them to Arizona and Nevada, and sell them at a huge markup to electricity-starved Californians.

  • samsam von virginia

    Hmph. Some engineers YOU lot are!

    You build some additional coal-fired plants in California, sell that electricity to other states, and import the hydro/wind energy THEY produce and sell it to your customers.

    What a bunch of maroons!

  • Ignoramus

    Historical point re: moon shots.

    When JFK said in 1961 that we'd put a man on the Moon before the end of the decade, the guys at Grumman Etc already knew how to do it. It was still a challenge in engineering execution, but not in scientific discovery. Engineers already had the blueprints and a budget. If funded, they promised to deliver and did.

    Greens insist on pursuing things like wind and solar that we know won't work based on current technology because they're too expensive and they don't scale. We're ignoring basic research into things like thorium reactors that have lots of promise.

  • joe

    DMac: my rule of thumb is that a typical gigawatt class coal burning power station needs a full train of coal EVERY DAY. It consumes about 1 million pounds of coal EVERY HOUR.

    There's a power station (with 4 burners) in Georgia which takes delivery from as many as five coal trains per day and that coal comes all the way from from Powder River Basin, WY.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plant_Scherer

    tjic: I was afraid you were in jail! Do you have a new blog or are you still offline?

  • Sean2829

    I don't know how California defines renewable but I think it includes hydroelectric. They already import a fair amount of this type of power from the Columbia River and the Colorado River. In fact I think most of the power from Hoover Dam goes to Los Angeles so Las Vegas, which is only an hour away from Hoover dam, actually gets its electricity from coal fired generation close by. The irony is that if businesses relocate to escape high electricity costs on California, they will likely be switching from renewable to fossile energy.

  • gdn

    samsam von virginia: - "You build some additional coal-fired plants in California, sell that electricity to other states, and import the hydro/wind energy THEY produce and sell it to your customers."

    Exactly. Only a relatively small net change overall, but simply California utilities buying it all.

  • peter

    1 gigawatt = ~24000 gal fuel oil = ~131 tons coal = ~174,000 acres solar power

    fuel oil and coal are based on heating value but modern power plants should exceed 90% burn efficiencies for both fuels. Now how much power does california need?

  • Bill Lever

    What does the California government really care about?? Money.

    Green energy may be the cause du jour, but increased taxes is the ultimate goal. Failure to meet any standard will be the reason for higher taxes.

    This model can be repeated with standards set in any aspect of your life.

  • http://that-xmas.livejournal.com/ Xmas

    Samsam,

    You're not going to get regular power plants built either. Part of the CA rolling blackout problem in the nineties was the lack of powerplants inside California's borders.

    (CA had to import power. Enron wrote the "deregulation" rules and then gamed the system that they built.)

  • Rob

    The Arizona Corporation Comm is trying to follow the same path.

  • Sam L.

    Sean 2829.

    Oregon does not accept hydro power (Bonneville Dam; say what?) as "renewable".

    Yes, we have plenty of "smart" people here.

  • Houston23

    I like the blog. Some of the commentators dance around the points but don't come to the obvious the conclusion. Ocam's razor if you will.

    Dave Boz:

    @TJIC: I think you’ve touched on the actual (unstated) plan, which is to drastically reduce energy use. North Korea comes to mind as a society that probably represents the Greenies’ ideal in terms of energy consumption per person.

    Now wrap your mind around the idea of the "smart grid".
    North Korea can easily enforce a 1/3 energy use reduction. Look up the SOCALED wars about op-tout.

    I am an engineer, but I will not put down some equations about the calculus of why and the end result answer.

    But understand this, the picture of N and S Korea from earth day is certainly attainable in Cali. Don't argue with me about specifics and the who's and where fores. I live in Texas. TAX, Smart Grid, Unicorn in every garage, or the will of the people, does not matter.

  • MJ

    Actually I’d have thought libertarians would have been all for solar power. It’s a way of being independent of the grid, not having to do business with those government regulated utilities. But perhaps it’s a bit too cutting edge for the average smug and comfortable libertarian.

    Libertarians believe in choice and voluntary cooperation, not autarky. Big difference.

  • Old Soldier

    I used to work for Nevada Power. We missed the boat on the great CA energy rip-off in the 90's. I bet their new parent company won't miss out this time.

  • Joseph Somsel

    Currently we're at 18%. Part of the battle has been to define and limit the definition of "renewable." Big hydro, the kind that works is excluded as is nuclear.

    Now get this, most new geothermal is also excluded even though it is the best option amongst renewables. Partially this exclusion is by allocation of transmission assets. Wind and solar have reservations on the Pacific Intertie and there is no room for the geothermal resources in NorCal and Nevada.

    This law serves two constituancies. First, the environmentalists want to crush industrial civilization and throwing as many road blocks in the path of electricity serves that well. Second, the developers of "renewables" will make out like bandits as long as the law is in place. What happens afterwards to the state is not their problem. They'll take their money and run.

    The state is boned on their own stupidity. It will get much worst before the citizens get the message and turn it all around.

  • Sam

    If the California bill includes Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) as an acceptable source of the renewable energy (I don't know if it does), then the state could conceivably buy a buttload of RECs from around the country to meet the mandate. I know that the Texas windmills produce a large number of RECs, and they don't sell for that much - like a dollar or two a MWh. Just a thought.

  • tyree

    In other news, the CEO of the Carl's Jr. Hamburger chain is considering moving their HQ out of California. Built up in California from a single hot dog stand Carl's Jr. grew to become one of the most successful restaurant fchains in the nation. How quickly the liberal/progressives/socialists/whatevers have changed the Golden State into a Welfare State.

    Somewhere, our enemies are smiling.

  • http://www.ianrandom.com Ian Random

    I really want progressive legislatures to be totally renewable based without any buffering via batteries.

    As for Dilbert:

    What you mean that the wind powered car won't work?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkcn8ZkvKKc&feature=related

  • Smock Puppet, Head Coach, Whatsamotta U. Baseboru Team

    > The California legislature can legislate a unicorn in every garage but that does not mean it will happen by 2020.

    Well, they don't plan to use the unicorns directly, silly!!

    They plan to use unicorn farts as the energy source...

    The really big trick is to make 'em eat beans.

    'Cause, you know, unicorns hate beans.

    :P

  • IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society

    > How many acres of solar generation would 1/3 of current (well, 2020 current with growth) generation require? Has to be huge…
    Indeed. I wrote a piece for No Oil For Pacifists with an armchair calc for the entire nation's power grid being replaced by solar back in 2009 --
    Answer: an areal coverage equivalent to 4/5ths of the entire state of Delaware.

    Yeah, go tell the greens you're planning to cover 4/5ths of DELAWARE with concrete foundations and pipe, along with the wiring infrastructure. Stand back, their pointy widdle heads are likely to pop at the merest suggestion of the idea.

    Solar Power: Flat-Out Wrong For All Time

    Calculate the Cali number by finding out what percentage of the nation's electricity usage it takes. I'm guessing 1/20th off the top of my head. Then we're talking "only" 1/3rd of that, so, if my 1/20 figure is right, then we're talking about covering one sixtieth of the entire state of Delaware.

    Not enough to pop their heads in spectacular fashion, but you can expect a few aneurysms...

    As suggested above, THIS is the real green plan for energy: Just THINK of it! The lowest sustainable carbon footprint of any nation on earth!

  • IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society

    > ...if negative energy could power a light bulb...

    ... Then THIS plan MIGHT actually have a chance in hell of working.

    Without that, notsomuch...

    Assuming, philipo, that you're just clueless, and not a troll...

    And assuming, philipo, that you actually seek to know, and aren't just a typical Green fool who thinks you can ignore reality....

    (Yeah, both some pretty big "IF"s)
    The distinction here is what is possible vs. what is not possible.

    Simple question:
    If "green power" worked, do you REALLY think that the Rich Bastards which you assume exist and really really control stuff... Do you REALLY believe they wouldn't use all this "free" energy lying around ready to be taken? Because they COULD certainly rig it so that THEY were the prime source of it. And their profits would skyrocket, because... hey, it's FREE! Except it's not, it never has been, and isn't even vaguely practical in any way, shape, or form.

  • Heltau

    If you can get out of this state, get out now. Because, whom ever is left are the people that are going to pay for all this renewable energy. And you belive 4 dollars a gallon for gas is to much?
    Can not wait for those 1,500 dollar electric bills a month to start rolling in. That should stimulate the mexifornia economy, toward the negative impact.
    get out now, it will be your only and last chance to save your children and feel your pain.

  • Ted Rado

    It astonishes me how a bunch of politicians, who appear to be technically illiterate, can mandate all sorts of crazy stuff. The most elementary calculations show that all the "alternative energy" schemes are either complete nonsense, or can only be done on a small scale. Have those idiots ever heard the expression "be sure brain is engaged before starting mouth"?

    I recently read that the DOE has pulled the plug on hydrogen. They finally figured out it was nonsense, which they could have done many billions if dollars ago. Here again, the simplest calcs show that by the time you convert natural gas to H2, compress it, and use it in a H2 powered car, it would be better to just use the NG in a NG powered vehicle. Does anybody in the government ever do any calcs?

  • Not Sure

    "Does anybody in the government ever do any calcs?"

    What's the point when you've already assumed the solution to the problem?

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  • cloudshe

    looks like the dumbing-down of california through a massively failed school system is finally paying off! and that unicorn idea! that'll get some votes too!!

  • http://hertzlinger.blogspot.com Joseph Hertzlinger

    I'm reminded of a well-known Shakespeare quote:

    Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

    Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?

  • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com Ed Darrell

    Anybody know the history of the catalytic converter?

  • Craig

    And all those megawatts of solar power drop down to zero every night. They actually only deliver peak outputs for a few hours a day, and that's when it's not cloudy.

  • Cousin Dave

    "Cause, you know, unicorns hate beans"

    Beans are a substance known to the state of California to cause cancer.

    My guess on how all this goes down: Nothing much happens until 2019. At that point, there's a big panic as everyone starts to realize that meeting the goal and the deadline is impossible. So there will be a few hugely-publicized token efforts, while very quietly in the background, indulgences are bought and sold. And then things will go on as before. Except that they'll be a whole lot more expensive.

  • IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society

    > And all those megawatts of solar power drop down to zero every night. They actually only deliver peak outputs for a few hours a day, and that’s when it’s not cloudy.

    Actually, I took that into account, Craig, in developing my figure. It's rough, and I assume the real value would be much, much larger, but what it would NOT be is much, much smaller. About five BILLION square meters.

    JH: Nice quote.