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October 28, 2019

California Shows How Not to Deal with Climate Change

Its policy has cost hundreds of lives AND damaged the environment

Suppose you were in charge of California and you believed strongly that humans are making the climate hotter. You know that your state is already plagued by droughts and is forest-fire prone. You are willing to have your residents pay twice as much for electricity as residents of neighboring states in order to fight climate change. What would you order the utilities to do with the extra money they collect from ratepayers?

California made the wrong choice. It’s ratepayers do pay twice as much as their neighbors in nearby states; but California chose to spend the extra money on politically popular programs to subsidize renewable energy projects rather than maintaining its aged electrical grid. It chose to subsidize electric cars for affluent people rather than first upgrading the lines that bring power to those cars. It insisted that new homes have solar panels but allowed them to be built in flammable forests which are now being set ablaze by over-burdened and under-maintained utility lines.

California utilities are under a mandate to get a third of their power from renewable sources by 2020 and 60% by 2030. The utilities are also under mandates to subsidize rooftop solar, build electric charging stations, and subsidize electric cars.  They apparently had no mandate to make their network safe and protect the environment from wildfires. They spent ratepayer money where the state told them to spend it.

Last year’s wildfires in California released as much carbon dioxide as is emitted in a year generating electricity in the state, according to the US Geological Survey. Hundreds of people died in these fires. The destruction of communities was enormous. This year the grid is still apparently sparking fires despite massive precautionary shutdowns by the utilities. People with electric vehicles can’t charge them so they can’t follow evacuation orders. Gasoline cars are idling in huge evacuation traffic jams. When the grid shuts down, hospitals and businesses fire up diesel generators. California spent the extra revenue to become LESS green.

California Governor Newsome says:  “It’s about dog-eat-dog capitalism meeting climate change. It’s about corporate greed meeting climate change. It’s about decades of mismanagement.”  But the utilities are regulated by the state Public Utility Commission. According to The WSJ, PG&E, which is bankrupt from last year’s fires and which is responsible for most of this year’s blackouts, received no safety fines from the PUC over the last several years. I have no idea how competent the utility management is; but the PUC should know. It’s hard to fault management for following state law and regulation; they can be faulted for not being brave enough to forcibly point out the lethal dangers in deferred grid maintenance and new housing development without new infrastructure to support it.

“We have to do something,” is what many climate change activists, especially the children, like to say. But what we do and in what order is critically important. Money that’s allocated to one project is implicitly denied to another. When there is a clear and present danger – for example 100-year-old power lines through dry timber, safety is the first priority. Building new electrical homes and buying electrical cars before updating the grid to deliver electricity safely turned out to be both dangerous and bad for the environment.

I don’t think it’s what Gov. Newsome meant but the capitalist beneficiaries of the politically correct green policies were the renewable energy industry. PG&E is bankrupt. The ratepayers aren’t getting reliable electricity; people are dying; and carbon emissions are increased. The more important the emergency, the more important it is to think before acting.

See also:      Time for California to Act Local

What Should We Do About the Threat of Climate Change?

A Convenient Urgency

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