Saturday, May 30, 2009

California Energy and Renewables

What follows is a response I made to a commenter on WUWT, whose handle is Fuelmaker, regarding renewable energy systems. As my two regular readers will recall, I work to develop cost-effective, grid-scale energy storage systems so that intermittent renewable power systems can provide reliable, on-demand, baseload or incremental power.

Fuelmaker wrote: "This is my sole, but overwhelming disagreement with Roger. The policies he supports has destroyed least cost planning in CA and has burdened the lower class with boutique and obsolete electricity sources. CA has passed law after law practically banning the most economical sources of power. They bungled “generation deregulation” so badly that they bankrupted their utilities. On top of that, they have forced all ratepayers to buy more expensive favored sources of power."

[And now my response:] Fuelmaker, I appreciate the points you made. Policies in California are almost always screwy. However, the bottom line is that electric power prices in California are not that bad, compared to the other 49 states. Our power prices are around 20 to 30 percent above the national average, yet our per-capita consumption of power is about the same percentage less than average. I believe I gave a citation for these facts earlier in this thread. California does not have the highest prices in the U.S.; it is about 11th out of 50.

Now, could the power prices be lower, with different policies? Perhaps. As I stated earlier, I work diligently to repeal AB 32, our Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, because I am convinced the law is detrimental, and will kill the economy. I have only so much energy and time with which to wage my battles, as do we all.

The policies I support re power production are, of necessity, consistent with the avenues that remain open to Californians. Without major legislative changes, those avenues are all we have. The electorate in California, sadly in my view, is not disposed to either A) elect representatives to change those policies, or B) vote via Propositions to change those polices. Only when those policies hit the electorate in the pocketbook, and even then it must be a hard hit, will the electorate rouse themselves and vote. A good power crisis does the trick in Sacramento, too.

The recent cool "weather" (or should I say, cooling climate?) during the past 2 or 3 years has not created a heat-wave-related power emergency, and meanwhile we have built some new gas-fired power plants for a margin of safety. But, if we were to have a prolonged heat wave, coincident with a drought so there is little water available for hydroelectric generation, this place is in serious trouble. If the climate realists are correct, we are due for around 20 years of continued cooling, so an electricity shortage is not likely. If Hansen et al are correct, we should have a block-buster shortage and perhaps things will be changed on the legal front.

The avenues that are presently available to us in this state are few, but include natural gas, and renewables of all types. Natural gas plants meet with fierce opposition due to the NOx emissions, which are capped-and-traded out here, also NIMBY-ism, and charges of Environmental Justice (lower income neighborhoods tend to be where power plants are sited).

Therefore, it makes little sense to argue for coal-fired power in California, nor for nuclear power, nor for oil-burning power plants. Our few windy locations are about built-out, and there are only three of them. Our hydroelectric sites are known, and built up, plus there is horrendous opposition to any more dams out here. So, where does that leave us? With solar in the desert. With wind offshore. With wave, also off-shore. With bio-gas and solid waste burning plants. With geothermal. Offshore power plants require unbelievable environmental scrutiny, and to reach the really good waves/winds, one must go through the U.S. MMS, who has only just now begun to think about issuing leases for these areas. Also, the ocean here is too cold for an OTEC system.

Meanwhile, the population increases, and (at least until recently) so does the economy. Our electrical demand grows with both of those factors. We are in a tight race out here, to do what we can to provide electric power, given the constraints we face. My associates and clients are working non-stop to develop, invent, devise, improve, or otherwise cobble together something that generates power where and when it is needed.

In all seriousness, if any readers see a solution to the situation I have outlined, I would love to hear it!

(I know, I know, we could all turn off our jacuzzis and save 20 percent right there...we could shut down all the floodlights and tv cameras at the Oscars and save another 20 percent...but wait, we already use 20 percent less per capita than the U.S. average!)

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.

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