Fred LaSor: Politics: playing with fire

As the old saw goes, the difference between California and the Titanic is the Titanic’s lights were still on when it crashed. California’s large public utility, PG&E, last week turned off the lights to tens of thousands of users in large swaths of the state over concerns that strong winds threatened to create fire hazards similar to what came together last year to create the Camp Fire, with its high loss of human life and property. The electric company laid the blame for this recent shutdown at nature’s door.

Anecdotes abound of freezers full of spoiled food and idled factories. ABC7 in Berkeley broadcast the sad story of UC grad student Sarah Morris, who lost two years of cancer experiments in the biochemistry lab when the electricity was shut down “without warning.”

But anecdotes don’t tell the real story of PG&E’s dilemma: being sued into bankruptcy last year for not shutting down, and now being criticized for shutting down service when winds are forecast.

The Golden State has been governed for decades with a strong predilection to political correctness, social justice, and a smug disregard for pragmatic solutions. That is their choice, although astute political observers have noted that the manner in which they manage their elections has turned the state into a single-party stronghold. Having just one party puts them on a path to repeating the history of Venezuela, perhaps in our lifetime. And for those who say California has the world’s fifth largest economy, please remember that Venezuela was not long ago the wealthiest country in all Latin America and has more petroleum reserves than any other country in the world.

A cruel reality has now made itself known in the Golden State: most of those solar panels that have been mandated on new buildings, and prior to that were sold as green energy that would save the planet, don’t work during energy blackouts. That’s because they don’t really produce electricity for the house they sit on, they pump it into the grid. That was a clever mandate from Sacramento to overcome the fact that solar panels produce power when it is needed least: in the middle of the day, when people are away from home. During peak demand – in the evening when people are cooking dinner – solar panels cannot keep up. So lawmakers require PG&E to buy solar power from homeowners in order to make it more financially attractive to place photovoltaic panels on your roof. When PG&E shuts down, the solar electricity goes nowhere unless homeowners have installed an isolation switch.

All those Tesla owners who proudly boasted that they were not adding to the world’s carbon footprint are now wondering where to plug their cars in. Elon Musk has tweeted his company’s intention to install battery packs at charging stations, and some owners who had the foresight to install a large generator at home (a 20 KW unit appears to be the minimum), are still driving their electric vehicle. I’m guessing they’re no longer bragging about their small carbon footprint, though.

Thankfully, NV Energy has announced they have no plans for similar shutdowns in the Silver State. But NV Energy has been caught up in the craze for expanded green energy, which should raise warning flags.

The solution to providing electricity at low cost with a small carbon footprint is to start moving to nuclear energy production, a process with a decades-long lead time because of complex permitting. America suffers misplaced fear over nuclear energy: it is carbon-free, reliable, and safe, given new technologies. The downside is, it is still transmitted over old power lines, the alleged source of last year’s fire.


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