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California Turbines
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California highlights imported electricity cost problem

While the rest of the USA argues about whether climate change is happening, California has led the way in switching to renewable electricity generation.  The state’s Senate Bill 350 requires that half of its electricity will be generated by renewables by 2030.  It provides a model that many countries around the world would like to follow.

But there are problems with California’s energy mix according to Jude Clemente at Forbes.  First, California’s import of energy – much of it coal, nuclear and gas – has increased from 25 percent in 2010 to 33 percent last year.  Second, the price of electricity is the highest in the western USA.  Third, California’s electricity system is far and away the least reliable in the USA:

“California easily leads the nation with nearly 470 power outages a year, compared to 160 for second place Texas, which is really amazing because Texas produces 125% MORE electricity! California’s reliability problems will be multiplied as more wind and solar enter the power mix, intermittent resources located in remote areas that cannot be so easily transported to cities via the grid.”

Clemente also highlights a longer term inequality issue that few proponents of renewable energy have considered.  California on its own would be the seventh largest economy on earth.  Neighbouring states, in contrast, are some of the poorest in the USA.  This allows California to export excess renewable energy during peaks at a price that undermines generators based in poorer sates.  The end result is that prices and outages go up for everyone, but wealthier Californians are far better able to absorb the prices.

Since the EU approach to energy involves similar interconnected grids to those between US states, there is a risk that richer states like Germany, France and the UK will do the same thing to southern and east European neighbours as California has been inadvertently doing to Arizona and Nevada.

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