Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I got to thinking about the way that California prices its electricity, which is never a good thing for a man’s blood pressure.
When I was a kid, the goal of the Public Utilities Commission and Pacific Gas and Electric was to provide cheap electricity. The Bonneville Dam and the Shasta Dam were lauded for bringing cheap, renewable electric power to the farms, just like the renewable electricity the Tennessee Valley Authority had supplied earlier. This cheap electricity was seen as liberating housewives from domestic slavery, and supporting business and manufacturing. It was hailed as the wave of the future and the path to success, and rightly so—cheap energy is the reason the developed world was able to lift itself out of poverty. And since we generated our own electric power when I was a kid, and had to live with the results when it went out, I know all about the ability of electricity to lessen even a kid’s load around a cattle ranch.
So … when did expensive energy become the new goal? When did raising the price of energy become a good thing? That’s topsy-turvy thinking.
I started this train of thought when I had occasion to revisit Anthony Watts’ outrageous electricity bill, which he discusses here.
Figure 1. Why California is circling the drain …
Ninety-two cents a freakin’ kilowatt-hour? The utility companies have a monopoly, and they are allowed to charge ninety-two cents a kilowatt-hour? How can that be? Isn’t the California Public Utilities Commission supposed to stop that kind of thing?
The most aggravating part of all of this to me is that so many people see this kind of pricing as being a good thing. Not the ninety-two cents part, most folks find that outrageous.
But lots of folks apparently approve of the part where the higher the demand for the electricity, the more the utilities charge for it. This is called “Time Of Use” pricing, and a lot of well-meaning people think it’s a good idea … not me. I figure that’s because they just never thought it through all the way, they never saw what’s at the other end of the spoon.
Now, the utilities claim that Time Of Use pricing is a good thing because it spreads the load more evenly over the 24 hours … but why should I care? That’s their business, to provide enough power for all conditions when and as needed … but I digress. Hang on, I can likely find an example of their justification style … OK, they say the reason for Time Of Use Pricing is:
“To ensure greater power reliability and a better energy future”.
Impressive, who wouldn’t want a better future. Can I translate that for you?
“Greater power reliability” means so they won’t run out of power. If they were honest they’d say that they have Time Of Use Pricing “to avoid brownouts because we don’t have adequate generation capacity”. And ensuring a “better energy future” means “we hope we can provide future power but only if we raise prices on you today.” I’ll return to this issue in a moment.
But in any case, what kind of heartless bastards charge you more for something when you really need it? Because with “Time Of Use” pricing, when Anthony’s wife and kids are suffering in the scorching heat in Chico and really need the aircon, Pacific Gas And Electric (PG&E) and the California Public Utilities Commission say “Fine, you folks can turn on your air conditioners … but it will cost you almost a dollar a kilowatt to cool down.”
I never in my life thought I’d see electricity pricing used as a weapon against the poor and the old folks like that. That is criminal. What a plan. The seniors can afford to air condition their apartments or their rooms whenever they don’t need to … but when it’s hot, when they really need to air condition them, they can’t afford to. Catch-22, thy name is legion.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m sure the Public Utilities Commission didn’t intend that outcome. I’m not accusing them of deliberately trying to cook Grandma. To do that you’d need some smarts, and anyone implementing a plan like that clearly has no smarts to spare on Grandma. Sadly, it’s just another case of Noble Cause Corruption, where the noble cause of saving the world from Thermageddon™ has overwhelmed native common sense and compassion.
Seriously, folks, this kind of pricing is madness, it’s unacceptable. If we had a water utility, and they charged 5¢ a glass when you weren’t thirsty, and $5.00 a glass when you came in dying of thirst, everyone would scream bloody murder that as a public utility you can’t screw the customers like that. Pick a dang price for a glass of water and stick with it, you can’t be jacking the price through the roof on someone just because they’re thirsty, that’s not on.
But that’s exactly what’s happening with electricity. Air conditioning in Chico is becoming the province of the wealthy, due to the “Time Of Use” pricing policies of the PUC.
However, the PUC are not the villains here. They are caught in the middle because of the stupidity of the voters and of Governor Brown. The voters put in a very destructive “20% by 2020” plan requiring 20% of the electricity supply to come from renewables by 2020 … then Governor Moonbeam had a Brilliant Idea™, so he unilaterally raised it to 33% by 2020. I don’t know how he jacked it by himself, but his daddy was the Governor and he grew up in the state house, so he knows which side of the bread the bodies are buttered on … these things are mysteries to the uninitiated like you and I.
And of course, it’s nearly impossible to build a fossil-fired plant of any kind anywhere in California anyhow. I hear these days when you apply for a license in California to generate electricity from fossil fuels, the State Government just issues you a couple of lawsuits along with the permits, in order to save time …
So you can’t build fossil plants, and renewable plants are few and far between … and as a result the system operators, a company called CAISO, are always balancing on the edge of a “brownout”, when the power doesn’t go out, but you only get 90% of the voltage, or on the verge of rolling blackouts, the next step after brownouts … and we’ve seen both.
And to put the icing on the cake, somewhere along the line, some congenital idiot ruled that hydroelectric power doesn’t count as a renewable energy source. I hope that person roasts in the place of eternal barbecue and HE doesn’t have the money to run the air conditioner. Truly don’t think I’ve heard a more expensive and destructive ruling than that one, especially after the TVA and Bonneville Dam and Shasta Dam have shown that yes, idiots, hydropower is indeed renewable. Yeah, dams have problems and there’s lots of issues, but last I looked the rain is still working both reliably and renewably …
So by 2020 we’re suppose to get a third of our power from solar, and rainbows, and wind, and hydrogen, and biomass, and methane from the digestive apparati of unicorns, and fuel cells, anything expensive and out of reach will do. The suppliers of these nostrums have the state over a barrel, of course, and demand outrageous prices.
And as you would predict, this unbelievable idiocy has left the state woefully short of power. And as a result, the whole program has gone into reverse.
So now, rather than increasing the amount of cheap electric power available to the consumer like a utility should, we’re going the other way. The PUC and PGE aren’t encouraging people to utilize cheap power in order to better their lives. They aren’t doing their job of ensuring an adequate supply of inexpensive power. Far from it.
Instead, they’re doing whatever they can to push people back into the dark ages, because they are UNABLE TO GENERATE ENOUGH LIGHT OUT OF UNICORN ERUCTATIONS TO FILL THE DEMAND …
So that’s why, when they say the pricing is to “assure greater power reliability”, that’s a lie. They are using that pricing to discourage demand. Have you ever heard a dumber thing than a business working to discourage demand? Who anywhere tells their customers to buy less? Why jack your prices to force them to buy less?
Well, because they don’t have the power generating capacity. And this in turn is because for every two fossil-fueled or hydroelectric power plants you build, you need one unicorn-fueled plant, and those damn unicorns are proving much harder to catch than Governor Moonbeam figured …
But even given that that is the case, and given that the PUC is caught in the middle, there has to be a better plan than cooking Grandma to deal with that problem.
The people pushing these rattle-trap schemes, like “Death Train” Jim Hansen, always talk about the grandchildren … meanwhile, every one of their damn plans, of carbon taxes, and cap-and-trade, and subsidies, and requirements for “renewables”, and regulations, and all the rest, every one of them does nothing but screw Grandma and the rest of the poor.
Those plans do nothing but raise the cost of energy with almost no benefit to the environment.
They don’t reduce CO2. They don’t save the planet. They don’t help the environment. At best, with a following wind they might make a difference of a couple hundredths of a degree in a century. And indeed, because they further impoverish Grandma and the poor, they are actively harming the environment.
And meanwhile in the present, far from the ivory towers where they entertain their century-long fantasies, on the other side of the tracks, out of sight from the houses of the wealthy, the reality of these destructive, ugly policies hit Grandma and the poor of California the hardest. The head of the PUC doesn’t have to worry whether he can afford to air condition his sick child’s room … the CEO of PG&E isn’t losing sleep over his electric bill.
I fear I have no magic bullet to solve this. It will be a slow slog back to sanity. All I can do is to highlight the issues, and trust that at some point people will come to their senses.
So all of you folks that think that fighting CO2 will make a difference decades from now, remember the difference that this pseudo-green insanity is making today. Your actions are cooking Grandma, impoverishing the poor, and harming the environment today, and history will not find your part in inflicting pain and deprivation on society’s weakest members to be funny in the slightest. I truly don’t care if you think the poor in 2050 desperately need help from some imagined tragedy. You are screwing the poor today.
My best Independence Day wishes to you all, and remember, the beauty of America is that you’re all free to air condition your houses … but only when it’s not hot.