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Debunking an abundance of delusional nonsense in "Opinion: California Dodged Rolling Blackouts — And Criticism of Clean Energy Plans”
"Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know." - Michael Crichton
Times of San Diego is a small press outlet in Southern CA who covers mostly local and state events. Over the weekend, as the statewide heat wave was finally roaring to a close, the outlet published an opinion piece entitled, “Opinion: California Dodged Rolling Blackouts — And Criticism of Clean Energy Plans,”
This piece, written by their editor Chris Jennewein contains a falsehood in nearly every sentence.
If it were not labeled as opinion and instead actual reporting it would need to be retracted due to all its errors. People, including journalists, are of course always entitled to their own opinions but they are also not free from having the copious amounts of falsehoods influencing such opinions refuted.
Let’s dig in.
The scorching 10-day heat wave that Southern California endured had one unexpected benefit — it proved that the state can successfully manage the transition to clean energy.
The piece opens up with quite the claim! The dream pushed by activists, politicians, bureaucrats, rent-seekers, and most of the corporate press is to transition California’s energy usage to 100% “clean energy.” Right now CA is nowhere close to that. Insisting whatever the hell happened this past ten days is “proof” the state can successfully something as substantial as the desired energy transition is as absurd as saying that because a kindergartner can write his or her name they’re capable of writing an entire book.
Most the state’s transportation is all done using hydrocarbon-fueled internal combustion vehicles. Heavy industry, which these groups often have no idea exists, relies on primary energy from hydrocarbon sources too.
Only during a few hours of the day is CA’s electricity come from at a max of 40% of renewable sources. If large hydroelectricity and nuclear are included (CAISO excludes these resources from their definition of “renewable”) then that number pushes closer to 50%.
Despite record demand for electricity, rolling blackouts were avoided thanks to careful management of supplies by the California Independent System Operator and sophisticated participation by residents.
It’s indeed true that demand peaked at over 50 MW several days in a row including one record breaking day exceeding the previous 2006 record. CAISO most likely had far more to do with managing the supplies more than residents taking action as it’s CAISO’s responsibility to ensure generation sources are ready for operation prior to events such as heat waves. They get a lot of flak , some with good reason, but they knew to call for as much extra generation capacity day in advance of the heatwave.
Typical of this management was the first use of four emergency generators installed by the Department of Water Resources in Roseville and Yuba City. They were turned on Monday to add 120 megawatts — enough for 120,000 homes — to the grid.
First of all, these emergency generators were installed at great expense (it’s not cheap to let such an asset sit unused but CA bureaucrats know they can milk taxpayers for such projects) last summer to attempt to mitigate the risk of a repeat of the Summer 2020 blackouts.
They’re, uh, natural gas powered, and the 120MW represents a drop in the bucket of total demand at any time of day or night. If they’d been used during the peak hours of Tuesday the 6th - the day the state was the closest to rotating blackouts, that 120MW would have contributed to just 0.23% of total demand.
Chances are these didn’t power any homes anyways but instead were used for the DWR’s own water pumps so they didn’t have to rely on grid energy. If that’s the case, then they didn’t provide any power to the grid but instead dropped demand by that paltry 120 MW.
The fact is, the days of brute-force power generation with giant coal-burning plants are numbered.
In California, coal is already dead as there are no operating coal plants within the state. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, who are separate from the CAISO grid, do own and operate a coal-fired power plant in Utah. And while CAISO doesn’t track the composition of imported energy from outside CA, there’s a good chance some of that is also coal. Coal is in decline in the US too, that much is true but in reality the rapid retirement of these coal plants is causing more and more reliability issues on the grid - especially as they’re replaced with intermittent weather-dependent renewables.
Worldwide coal use for power generation continues to grow - China and India are two notorious examples. But to the real chagrin of utopians here in the US, particularly California, coal usage is growing in Western Europe, including Germany who continue to lead the Energy Policy Imbecile Olympics by shuttering the majority of their nuclear plants and building as many renewables as possible in pursuit of their utopian Energiewende program. The ideological background of Energiewende by the way is fascinating. Michael Shellenberger provides a taste here.
There’s still a role for nuclear, which is carbon free, but widespread solar and wind farms, growing battery backup installations, and efficient generators using relatively clean natural gas are leading the transition.
Jennewein correctly acknowledges the role of nuclear as a carbon-free source yet much like his Corporate Press cousins over at the LA Times, appears to have no idea of the difference between baseload power, which nuclear is, and intermittent power , which renewables are. When there is either insufficient baseload or the renewables Gods are not there, demand must be met with peaking power, which is still primarily natural gas. The batteries, as I discussed briefly in Friday’s piece only provided a blip of background noise to the total picture.
Throughout the heat wave, the Cal-ISO’s web dashboard showed renewable energy supplying 25% or more of the state’s power needs.
The claim lacks needed context. It’s one thing to repeat such a claim citing a certain percentage of the grid is being supplied by renewables. But it’s a whole other thing that Jennewein apparently knows of CAISO’s dashboard and looks to have observed it throughout the heat wave.
Just how in the hell then did Jennewein miss out that demand changes throughout the day which has to be matched exactly with an ample amount of supply? Said supply also changes throughout the day both in quantity and source.
A notable portion of said supply, his God renewables, were not available in any meaningful amount during the periods of high demand including when Californians were asked to reduce their use. Natural gas and imports stepped in to fill that job. I’ve written about this several times already.
Anybody can go back on CAISO’s site to verify past days or watch the grid live and verify what percentage of the total supply is being provided by renewables.
This stuff isn’t rocket science.
There are also new efficiencies on the demand side. Newer homes use less electricity, and smart thermostats — some controlled by utilities — can carefully manage air-conditioning use.
Meaningless claims without any quantification. Not to mention not all buildings in California are homes and not all homes, let alone buildings, in California have air conditioning installed.
As for utilities controlling smart thermostats, has Jennewein been living under a rock? Customers in the Denver area were furious their local utility did such a thing by locking them to high temperatures during a heat wave at the beginning of the month. So, uh, read the room, dude. This isn’t necessarily something worth flexing at the moment.
And Californians increasingly understand and appreciate their role. Residents complied with the Flex Alerts, especially after a statewide cellphone alert on Tuesday, and in many cases didn’t have to do anything because of smart thermostats.
Jennewein is either ignorant of the fact a modern developed nation by definition provides its citizens with reliable energy no matter the demand or he’s engaging in grotesque anti-human flourishing propaganda. It’s not anybody’s role in a modern developed society to have to worry about whether they should use electricity or not and in what quantities.
Fox News and other conservative media outlets seized upon the heat wave with glee, especially after the Cal-ISO reminder not to charge electric vehicles during Flex Alerts. Fox saw this as proof that America should continue burning gasoline and belching carbon.
Well it was true! Among the many items Californias were asked to do during Flex Alerts was to refrain from charging EVs. While it wouldn’t be surprising for Fox or other right-leaning Corporate Press rags to want to cover this, it is incredibly ironic coming only a few days after the announcement the state wants to ban sales of all ICE vehicles by 2035. If you can’t see the double standard there, then I don’t know how to help ya.
Did Fox “see” this as proof the US “should continue burning gasoline and belching carbon?”Likely no. Jennewein is projecting here. Classic Cluster B behavior.
But for Californians, who drive more electric cars than any state, this was a major “duh” moment. Everybody who drives an EV knows you charge overnight, when rates are lowest. You only charge during the day if you have a very long drive or forgot to charge overnight.
Speaking of deception, Jennewein not only arrogantly insists he speaks for all CA EV drivers but he conflates rates (dollars) with supply.
If there are issues with the supply then rate isn’t going to matter (it does on the actual electricity markets, but end users seldom see the spikes in their bill). It is indeed true that many EV owners (probably not everybody… projection again) take advantage of the lower rates offered by their utility to charge at off-peak hours.
This is also when exactly zero of CA’s solar energy is available. Wind is hit or miss, and the paltry battery storage facilities are likely being charged. So what’s providing the juice for those EVs? Likely natural gas, some hydro, geothermal, and nuclear.
While CA is the state with the highest number of EVs on the road and leads in sales of new EVs, they are still a small fraction of the total makeup of the state’s surface transportation vehicles. This isn’t the own he feels it is.
In many ways the criticism of clean energy today is reminiscent of a popular conservative rejoinder at the beginning of the 20th century — “Get a horse!” We all know now how much faster, more convenient and cleaner the automobile was, even if there were a few problems in the early days.
There is no “we” here. This is Jennewein projecting again. Legitimate criticisms exist but people such as Jennewein along with others in the Corporate Press, activists, bureaucrats, and politicians refuse to listen or pick up a simple book on how the some of the things they take for granted in the world work.
California demonstrated just how few problems there are now with clean energy during the great heat wave of 2022. The heat was worse than in 2020, but the outcome was better.
It’s true this heat wave was longer, more severe, and resulted in fewer issues than 2020 event but Jennewein neglects to provide readers with the fact that additional backup natural gas generation played a role, Gov Newsom’s order to demand certain plants to essentially run in overtime exceeding their pollution limits, and the fact the heat wave didn’t hit the rest of the Western US this time which allowed for neighboring states to send additional power to CA. He also leaves out the fact that generator sales are up
Once again, the Golden State is leading the way in America, this time toward a clean energy and climate friendly future.
Just how exactly is several days of close calls on the state’s electrical grid any sign of leadership for the rest of the country, a clean energy future, or “climate friendly?” What an absurd delusion. California is no leader in this domain nor is it a leader in many others as of late.
Oh, and as for the wind turbines at the beginning of his article, they’re a part of the solar capacity that were offline the latter part of the heat wave due to Tropical Storm Kay.