Brown is Green

11 September 2018

 

Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

California Commits to 100% Carbon-Free Energy by 2045

 

The fifth largest economy in the world, the State of California, has committed itself by law to having a carbon-free energy sector by 2045. In 2017, carbon-free sources provided 32 percent of the state's energy consumption. The law that Governor Jerry Brown signed yesterday will require that figure to rise to 60 percent by 2030 before hitting the 100 percent mark in 2045. Historically, where California leads, the nation eventually follows, and in this case, only Hawaii is ahead of the Golden State.

California has long had its own emissions requirements for cars, and the Los Angeles skyline is clearer for it. Because of its massive market, the state is in a position to require corporations to follow its public policy in ways other states can not. Wyoming cannot dictate to General Motors what kind of fuel economy its cars get. California can, or more accurately, General Motors must choose between meeting the state's requirements or give up on the millions of car buyers in the state.

Economic considerations drove most of the opposition to the bill. Lynsey Paulo, a spokesperson for Pacific Gas and Electric, cautioned in a statement emailed to the press, "If it's not affordable, it's not sustainable." She also warned that the bill would make the grid less reliable and drive up consumers costs. This is, of course, both true as well as irrelevant. Paying the full cost of energy will drive up costs because, so far, air pollution and carbon release has been ignored. By doing so, fossil fuel consumption has been subsidized by the state. Ending such externalities is the cornerstone of sound policy.

As for keeping the grid reliable, modern terrorism and cyberwarfare suggest that the grid is not reliable now and a shift to distributed energy generation, making it where it is consumed, would provide greater national security by deceasing the impact of any successful attack. Knocking out a coal- or natural gas-fired plant would harm millions. Millions of homes and businesses independently making their own electricity with wind and solar would make such an attack futile if it were even possible.

The goal is ambitious, and if the German example is anything on which to go, there will be setbacks along with progress. On January 1 of this year, Germany's renewables accounted for roughly 100 percent of its energy consumption. However, its progress for the third year running as stagnated. Its 2020 target for a carbon-free energy sector is almost certainly going to be missed. Last year, the annual consumption served by such sources was only 36.1 percent. Nevertheless, that is up 3.8 percent over the preceding year, and getting to the target late is better than not getting there at all.

This journal has one concern, and that is the closure of the state's only nuclear power plant at El Diablo Canyon due in 2025. Nuclear power is carbon-free, and the nuclear industry has been diligent in its efforts to cast itself as a green source of power. This is complete nonsense. Carbon emissions and uranium-235 are both bad for the environment. The nuclear industry points to an impressive safety record in the US and around the world. However rare nuclear accidents are, their severity is so great as to justify a ban. One worries that the state, in its drive to rid its energy sector of carbon, will reconsider the wise decision to close down the reactors that remain. There is little value to halting climate change at the cost of several Chernobyls around the world.

The state has given itself a couple of decades to make the transition, and if the powers that be plan and execute the plan properly, the transition should be a success. Governor Brown leaves office in January on a high note.


© Copyright 2018 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.


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