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Green power goals will hurt California when it needs power the most to keep people healthy
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

Notice anything unusual about the Flex Alerts so far this summer?

The peak times for everyone to watch electricity consumption has been between 5 and 10 p.m.

That is despite the fact the peak temperatures are between 2 and 5 p.m. at the tail end of the workday.

Why this matters is simple.

Solar power production drops like a rock as the sun starts its western descent over the Pacific Ocean.

And while it’s true more batteries to store excess electricity generated by the day from solar panels are being built just like the one Ripon approved earlier this month next to the Flying J Travel Plaza off of Jack Tone Road, it begs a serious question: Is the state’s goal of weaning completely off carbon-based power sane or even do-able?

Take the five-day heat wave we just enjoyed and the upcoming return to 100-degree temperatures.

Did you notice how hazy the skies were?

That reduces solar production.

And what about the stretches of time where wind died down?

Not only did it help raise temperatures, but it reduced wind power production in the Altamont Hills and elsewhere.

Then there is the 900-pound gorilla in the room when it comes to meeting California’s electricity needs. Just over 16 percent of the state’s electricity comes from hydroelectric plants.

The California Department of Water Resources that operates eight major hydroelectric plants expects to see power production plunge to 30 percent of the 10-year average this summer. Similar projections exist for federal hydroelectric plants at Shasta, Folsom, New Melones, Friant dams.

The state has lost 800,000-acre feet of water from snowmelt this year due to the drought that is now in its second year. Many reservoirs including the respective linchpins of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project — Shasta Lake and Oroville Lake — are below 50 percent of average storage for this time of year.

The ground is now so dry it has been acting like a sponge with spring runoff. That means what summer rain nature might provide in the higher elevations won’t even keep many streams that feed rivers in the higher elevation even flowing at a trickle.

This means hydroelectric power generation is likely to become non-existent as we get deeper into summer that officially got underway on Monday.

It gets even worse.

Almost 50 percent of the power of the 2,080 megawatts Hoover Dam produces is used in Southern California. Hoover’s power output is already down 25 percent while reservoir level keep plunging to new record lows.

PG&E has been exceeding state dictates when it comes to renewable power. The for-profit utility now has 33 percent of the energy it sells coming from renewable resources. Of their overall renewable electricity portfolio, 32 percent comes from small hydroelectric plants, 45 percent from solar photovoltaic, 1 percent from solar thermal, 10 percent from wind, 11 percent from biomass, and 1 percent from geothermal.

Within nine years, 60 percent of the power PG&E and other utilities sell in California must come from renewable sources based on edicts from Sacramento. Then by 2045 all generated power must be zero carbon emissions.

Meanwhile whether you place your faith in manmade climate change or dendrochronology — the study of tree rings that verifies mega droughts spanning 50 years or more with brief periods of average rain and snow puncturing them has been the norm in what is now the western United States as opposed to the wet period from 1790 to 1960 — it is clear a large chunk of renewable energy likely won’t be that dependable.

Studies have shown even if every gas-powered vehicle, train, and farm equipment in the Great Central Valley ceased to operate we would still not be able to meet the targeted 2045 greenhouse standards.

Science research indicated during the past wildfire seasons, the infernos wiped out all greenhouse gas reduction progress.

Worse yet when you have drought that primes the landscape for wildfires, you not only have less or no hydroelectric power but less solar production due to heavy wildfire smoke plunges off the cliff.

That means even with battery storage of excess solar power before a wildfire occurs, heat waves during wildfires will trigger widespread power shortages just as it is needed the most to cool homes and commercial ventures as well as to clean indoor just as people take refuge from the double whammy of a heat wave and wildfire smoke.

It is likely the state can never store enough power in batteries to make it through the one-two punch of drought that cripples hydropower and massive smoke from wildfires that brings solar power to its knees.

That leaves the only choice to keep critical infrastructures going is generators. Given solar powered generators won’t do the trick during wildfires that leaves those powered by fossil fuel as the only alternative. That is, of course, if they aren’t outlawed and the sales of diesel and gasoline aren’t banned.

It would be more prudent — and keep air a lot cleaner — if the state allows natural gas to be part of electricity generation portfolios. It could be capped at 10 percent on day-to-day power production with a built in capacity to double electricity production from natural gas plants in wildfire emergencies and similar situations to reduce or avoid the need for generators.

That way well-regulated natural gas power plants that are designed to operate as clean as possible will provide emergency electricity and not tens of thousands of pollutants spewing portable generates whether they are hooked to a home of PG&E rolls that out on truck trailers to plug into the system.

Topping that off, there is now a movement to do away with natural gas to heat homes and power water heaters. It is significantly less expensive and more efficient to heat with natural gas.

That doesn’t matter as 100 percent green goals trumps all other considerations.

We need more renewable power that is green.

But 100 percent renewable and green energy may end up being as reckless as 100 percent non-renewable and carbon-based electricity.

We should be pursuing a middle ground tilted heavily toward renewables and green power. Instead we are pursuing absolute goals that in the overall scheme of things are primed to be reckless during increasing periods of heat waves, droughts, and wildfires when California needs the power most.

It’s going to be a long hot, dry, and dark summer. And whatever low point we reach this year with blackouts and such it will be looked back at fondly as the days when California had somewhat reliable power.