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The Best Analysis from the Snobby Malthusian Elitists at High Country News
“The media are less a window on reality, than a stage on which officials and journalists perform self-scripted, self-serving fictions.”
I’m getting tired of writing “debunking” pieces and it was not my intent to turn this Substack into a repository for such material but the temptation to debunk this piece is strong. This should be the debunking piece for awhile and then I’m back to long form (hopefully) well-researched, informative, and evergreen pieces.
I used to subscribe to High Country News (HCN), a monthly news magazine based in “Colorado,” who focuses on issues in the Western US. After years of faithfully reading the magazine cover to cover, I got tired of their ideological turn and allowed the subscription to lapse.
HCN have turned from a legitimate source of good information of the various issues facing the Western US, particularly the Mountain West, to a snobby elitist rag for people who live in the middle of (and mock) “flyover country” yet don’t come from there itself.
In other words, HCN has turned into another NPR, New Yorker or The Atlantic. That sounds mean, and highly partisan, but it’s true. They also have the nerve to lecture lifetime residents of these areas and their desperation for money (seems like they’ve lost a lot of subscribers) is actually hilarious.
They’ve become an emblem for what Wes Flynn covers over on the The Fleeting West Substack too:
Anyways, my “lane” here is energy issues.
This article is particularly bad.
Not only does it contain some of the usual crap energy takes but it also contains some straight up misinformation and things that never happened. It also reveals an author with a wicked, deadly worldview.
First of all, contrary to the title, there is no Green New Deal per se. Title is clickbait.
The legislation named as such never got anywhere. Perhaps the closest thing to such a program is the Orwellian Inflation Reduction Act, which for as magical as it is, isn’t magical enough to take have taken effect a week before the law was signed by the President.
The primary argument here, apparently, is that is climate change causing the strain on the state’s electricity grid, not renewables. Interesting enough (spoiler alert) the author doesn’t really argue the byline anywhere sufficiently in the article.
But to the claim in general, I propose:
I’ve been in more than enough discussions/arguments with people of this type that I guarantee he’s trying to set up a rhetorical trap to bait “climate change deniers.” It’s easy to spot the type.
Not having it. Sorry. More and more people are waking up to this nonsense too.
Anyways onto a handful of excerpts:
The text message dinged and bleeped and buzzed millions of phones shortly after 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 6, spreading panic across the Golden State. It was the notification that so many Californians had feared and anticipated1 — the signal that soon the entire state would be plunged into an un-air-conditioned dystopia of its own making, otherwise known as rolling blackouts.
I don’t want to be terribly pedantic, but this text alert the author is talking about was an emergency alert, and it was sent far closer to 6:00 pm (see screenshot and do the math) not “shortly after 5 pm.”
Text messages aren’t the same as emergency alerts. Local electrical utilities did also sent actual texts to customers who opted in for such messages. I received one from mine at about 3:19 pm.
Conservative pundits had prophesied this moment for months, warning that California would pay for forsaking fossil fuels and choosing solar and wind and geothermal power instead. Then the mainstream media piled on with headlines asking: How could the state possibly handle a flood of new electric vehicles draining the grid when it couldn’t keep the lights on now?
Like with the Times of San Diego piece the author here too wishes to turn this into a culture war thing. Turning something into a left versus right culture war ordeal is not only a grotesque reduction of the issue but it’s intellectually lazy. Any midwit can do this.
Moving onto relevant things: the EV mandate is a serious thorn and it seems to be quite common for these journalists to reduce or straight up mock these concerns.
If CA’s grid can barely handle what just happened with the relatively few people who own EVs, then how it it going to handle a mostly or all EV future?
Us normal people have to actually deal with reality.
On top of that, consider the mandates from several cities, such as San Diego, who wish to convert the majority of natural gas appliances in existing buildings to all-electric AND mandate all new buildings be all-electric only.
Where are the people advocating for these pie-in-the-sky ideas with the actual plans on how to implement these programs? Politicians, bureaucrats, activists, and journalists may get to operate in fantasyland but the rest of us live in a world based on reality.
So, let’s unpack that. It’s true that the rapid buildup of solar power has made it more difficult to manage the grid and that it’s important to adjust the timing of EV charging. But the transition away from fossil fuels isn’t the source of the woes, it’s an attempt to mitigate the real problem: A warming climate. And that is caused by, well, burning fossil fuels.
“Unpack” has made this person sound even more arrogant and pretentious. Normal people don’t use this asinine phrase.
The author is correct in that adding solar power to the grid has made it more difficult to manage. Adjusting the timing of EV charging? Sure, fair enough. But to optimize the greatest amount of solar energy, which to review is only available when the sun is out, doesn’t match the time when many EV owners want to charge their vehicles. That’s an issue that will presumably get addressed as more public EV charging stations are installed, especially at offices and business parks where employees can charge during the day. But ultimately, at least right now, many EV owners charge at night in their homes or use public charging stations whenever. Wishful thinking or borderline authoritarian-leaning editorializing from some journalist isn’t going to change that.
It’s true that peak hour demand - from 4 to 9 pm approximately on the weekdays is not an ideal time for EV owners to charge their cars if the desire is to use as much green energy as possible and not strain the grid.
This is also the time when the sun goes down, the winds pick up a fair amount of the slack, and the natural gas and imports surge. At night, when rates and demand are low, is really the ideal time to charge but that’s also when very little of the grid’s power is being provided exactly zero solar let alone other sources of renewable energy.
Below is a review of the infamous Fatal Trifecta.
The author is also correct in that burning of fossil fuels is changing the climate. There is however a surefire chance he does not understand to what degree, as in he most likely catastrophizes the negative side effects while ignoring the many benefits of fossil fuels. It’s doubtful this author knows the USA, in particular, since transitioning natural gas from coal (thanks to fracking) has decreased the country’s carbon emissions and this decrease is significantly more than the decrease from renewables.
Also highly doubtful the author has stepped out of his bubble and has even the slightest clue of the fossil fuel and/or carbon emissions of the rest of the world let alone how important it actually is (if he cares about human flourishing) to embrace energy dense, cheap, and easy to transport fuels.
Still, for most of that afternoon, all went smoothly on the California grid because solar and wind output was so high, offsetting about 30% of the total demand. Then the sun started sinking toward the horizon, and solar generation plummeted. But the heat didn’t ebb and the power demand continued to climb, hitting a new record high of 52,000 megawatts — 25% greater than a typical summer weekday — at about 5 p.m.
Solar output was high on the 6th but was a bit bumpy between 1:00 and 3:00 pm. Wind output in the afternoon was not by any objective standard, “high.” It was barely there. It only started to really kick in the evening after the worst of the crises was over and it peaked at just shy of 3,000 MW around 10:00 pm.
The increasing undependability of the solar in the early afternoon with no doubt caused the need for CAISO to call for other generation sources (cough, natural gas, cough imports). This also easily made them nervous as demand itself was going up as the solar appeared to be dropping down earlier than anticipated.
Emergency natural gas generators were fired up across the state to fill the gap and new battery storage kicked in. But if demand didn’t subside — if too many people kept their air conditioners on full-blast — it would outpace supply. If power supplies just aren’t there, then grid operators must reduce demand on the system by implementing planned rotating outages, also known as rolling blackouts. If operators don’t do this, they risk the grid doing its own load-shedding in the form of uncontrollable blackouts and catastrophic failures that could cascade into neighboring states.
The emergency gas generators were a drop in the bucket and not on CAISO’s watch. It was the standard natural gas plants that did this work.
High demand was there anyways, regardless of whether the air conditioners were on “full blast” or not too.
As for batteries? It’s true California has added more battery storage since the 2020 blackouts but as discussed in previous pieces, they were, uh, meh, in this event. Better than nothing but still meh.
Still, after pulling out all the stops, grid operators on Tuesday acknowledged via an emergency alert that outages appeared to be on the way, seemingly affirming fossil fuel advocates’ gleeful predictions that the energy transition would throw the state back to the Stone Age — or whatever they call the time before electricity. The state braced for a night of stifling heat, darkness and even dimmed laptop screens. Instead of Netflix and chilling, Californians would be forced to read by candlelight and sweat.
This is where the author really starts getting annoying with the obnoxious holier than thou tone that epitomizes the average HCN piece these days. We see he’s writing for the coastal elites and those who moved to Mountain West towns displacing long time residents via gentrification than writing for the origin HCN audience.
This garbage that “affirming fossil fuel advocates” had anything resembling actual people hoping for such a horrible event is pure projection too.
Yet at 5:48 p.m., when demand remained at an unsustainable 50,388 megawatts, state officials sent out another text, this time urging Californians to unplug their devices, ease off on the AC and otherwise do what they could to conserve power.
At 5:50 pm, demand was at 50,403 MW and was about to drop off sharply. Demand peaked at the 51,000 MW level twice earlier, at about 4:00 pm and then at 5:00 pm respectively. In none of these periods was did it “remain” at any level.
This is so easy to verify on CAISO’s own website. Not only is this guy insufferable but he can’t get basic facts right.
As for another text? No. 5:48 coincides roughly with the previously mentioned emergency alert message discussed earlier.
Enough folks heeded the call that in the ensuing hour, demand fell by more than 3,000 megawatts — or almost one-and-a-half Diablo Canyon nuclear plants’ worth.
This isn’t the own the author feels it is.
Diablo was there humming all along being the reliable baseload power it’s known for. California would have more nuclear plants, and thus far less of a problem with managing their grid, if it wasn’t for the Malthusian anti-nuclear cult that parasitized the state for so long.
My money is betting this author subscribes to some of the tenants of this ideology.
It did the trick. At about 9 p.m. Californians’ phones dinged and buzzed and chirped yet again with another message from CAISO, the grid operator: The emergency was over, crisis averted, put away the candles and get back to your binge-watching. A few days later, the heat finally eased. There were no statewide rolling outages, the grid stood up to extreme weather, and fossil fuel advocates’ attempt to politically weaponize the predicted blackouts fell flat.
Again more projection here. Increasing said bet.
No, Californians did not receive another text at that time either. If they did receive a text, it was from their utility, not the state.
Here’s a few things to keep in mind, especially when you hear rhetoric about this near-miss being the result of green energy policies:
This is the point where we should probably stop simply based on the poor quality of the article so far. But I digress. He gets into using bullet points!
The link to Wyoming discusses a message from Bridger Valley Electric, a small co-op in Uinta County, Wyoming for customers to consider cutting their use on THUSDAY, two days after the extremely close call in CA. Again, this isn’t the own he feels it is. BVE at maximum has 20,000 rate payers, and that’s probably an overestimate.
The Utah link goes to a KQED (local NPR affiliate in SF area) and it mentions nothing about Utahians adjusting their thermostats. It only mentions the following:
“In Utah’s Salt Lake City — a city at more than 4,000 feet — temperatures were about 20 degrees higher than normal, hitting 105 on Tuesday, the hottest September day recorded going back to 1874.”
It’s an article mostly discussing the events inside California.
*Californians were asked to refrain from charging their electric vehicles and take other steps to conserve only between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., when demand on the grid and the price of electricity are high. It’s not exactly the extreme hardship it’s made out to be.
The author isn’t in any position to judge whether the optimal EV charging time for tens of thousands of other people is a hardship, let alone the emotionally-loaded extreme variety.
*California’s battery storage, much of it installed in the last couple of years, played a massive part in keeping the lights on when solar dropped off in the evening. For a brief period on Sept. 6, battery output reached 2,800 megawatts, more than that of Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, the state’s largest single generator. A couple dozen of those megawatts came from residential batteries owned by participants in Tesla’s “virtual power plant” pilot program. Utilities continue to bring more battery power online, further bolstering grid stability.
This journalist hasn’t the slightest clue as to what he’s talking about. As discussed earlier, the batteries as Matt Foley would say didn’t amount to JACK SQUAT.
Even without considering the billions of dollars in both at home electrical and grid upgrades, the idea of millions of people buying an EV, even with subsidies with such a program scaling up to any meaningful level is preposterous.
It’s also incredibly only the incredibly privileged, elitist, snobby types can do.
Also it’s highly regressive.
Tesla Virtual Power plant nonsense was debunked here:
*In the days following California’s grid emergency, Oregon utilities shut off power to about 40,000 people. The reason: To reduce the risk of their equipment sparking wildfires during hot, dry and windy conditions. High winds and storms took out power to all of Bullhead, Arizona, in the early days of the emergency and left about 30,000 Los Angelenos in the dark following the heat wave.
These are called Public Safety Power Shutoffs which are an entirely different animal from statewide grid failures.
Most of the nation’s grid is old and well past it’s usable lifespan, poles and arms rot, equipment corrodes, wires become frayed. All this increases the chances of high winds, storms, etc. causing a structural failure.
The typical electrical utility is spending their money on things like placating the ESG crowd and Malthusian Greens with renewable energy projects and other parasitic projects instead of maintaining the assets.
This is a human problem, it’s a politics problem, not a climate change problem.
Workers in the electrical transmission and distribution domains understand how to design a system that can handle the worst storms. The utilities just need the money and manpower to do the work. This often comes from asking state regulators to raise rates as opposed to asking shareholders of the parent companies to provide the funds.
Sexy government handouts extend only few and far between and have plenty of strings attacked.
And to the credit of many utilities in the West, they are doing what they can with the resources they have.
Extreme weather is clearly a much greater threat to the grid than green energy policies.
Both are great threats.
Extreme weather plus even the slightest spark from the grid is a huge threat to people and property too. California is no stranger to this.
*As for the politicians and pundits bellyaching about the “torture” of energy conservation and the “nightmare” of keeping their thermostats at 78 degrees, a reminder: Millions of people don’t have the luxury of adjusting their air conditioners, either because they don’t have air conditioning at all or can’t afford the electricity to run their units. Tens of thousands more are unhoused, enduring this and other heat spells in tents or on sidewalks. And agricultural and other outdoor workers toil in the deadly heat day after day, whether there are rolling blackouts or not. Climate change will continue to make these heat events worse and imperil more and more people.
Ah, now the real snobbery comes out.
With all do respect and again my lived experience noted that most people complaining about the grid were complaining about why the fifth largest economy, let alone any place in the first world was on the verge of having third world grid problems. It had little to do with thermostats.
Here’s a hard and uncomfortable fact about people who say things like this: they weaponize empathy and use this rhetoric to manipulate others. They actually do not give a damn about any of these people.
In closing he writes:
Amid the bluster and the tragedy of the latest heat wave there was a glimmering beacon of hope. In the end, it wasn’t coal or natural gas or nuclear power or batteries or any sort of technology that saved the California grid; it was Californians, themselves. And they did it not by building more of something — be it wind turbines or nuclear reactors — but by using less.
This is Malthusianism. At the core it’s a wicked anti-human, and anti-progress cult.
This ideology and those who carry it will do far more damage to humanity and to the planet than climate change.
I regret not keeping the hundreds of HCN magazines I collected over the years. They would have been useful fuel for someone to use to keep themselves warm this upcoming winter in places where Malthusian Green Leap Forward energy policies go into full swing.
Now this is just an anecdote aka, my lived experience, but nearly every single friend and family member I started warning friends on Labor Day about the possibility of rotating blackouts hadn’t a clue what I was talking about. On Tuesday I double downed on these communications when I saw CAISO was discussing elevating to EEA3 - the worst state of emergency on the grid. Not a single one of these people had a clue. Most of them had zero idea of how to figure out whether their circuit would be on the list for rotating blackouts.