Guest essay by Larry Hamlin
It’s been 15 years since 2006 where California’s AB 32 Global Warming Solutions Act (never let it be said that California politicians are lacking in grandiose overstatement) was adopted so the state could allegedly lead the world in “fighting climate change” by reducing the state‘s GHG emissions to 1990 levels by year 2020.
In the year 2006 EIA energy data shows the state having used emissions producing fuels to meet about 83% of its total energy needs with electricity representing about 23% of the state’s total energy use.
The measures taken to move the AB 32 scheme forward were centered around mandating use of increased renewable energy resources predominately to displace reliable fossil fuel power plants used in generating the state’s electricity and replacing these plants with generation resources using high cost, unreliable solar and wind in addition to emissions producing renewable biofuels.
CEC data shows that in 2019 the state used renewables to meet about 32% of its total electricity generation needs including 12.3% from solar, 10.2% from wind, 4.8 from geothermal and 2.4% from biofuels.
The state still used natural gas as the largest single resource in electricity generation at 34.2% with nuclear at 9%, large hydro at 14.6% and coal at 3%.
The state imported about 28% of its electricity from the U.S. northwest and southwest regions with about 48% of this imported electricity from emissions producing fuels.
To achieve the increased use of renewables the state imposed about $25 billion dollars in carbon tax schemes along with many more tens of billions of dollars in lucrative investment and production tax credit subsidies that were lavishly handed to renewable developers.
The California mandate to impose more renewables has significantly increased costs to the state’s electricity consumers that hurt lower income residents creating an increased energy poverty class of consumers.
EIA data shows the average cost of California residential electricity rose from about 14.33 cents per kWh in 2006 to about 19.15 cents per kWh in 2019 which is about 3 times higher than the average U.S. residential electricity rates increased. California’s 2019 average residential electricity rate is about 50% higher than the U.S. average residential electricity rate.
Even though the present level of renewables in California is only about 32% of its electricity market renewables have created electric system reliability failures as occurred in the summer of 2020 where state dictated lower amounts of dispatchable and reliable fossil power plants resulted in rolling blackouts (shown below) that left more than 800,000 homes, hospitals, emergency rooms, fire departments, police departments, sheriff departments, grocery stores and many other businesses without power for many hours.
Renewable energy advocates and climate alarmists hide the fact that these rolling blackouts that occurred in California on August 14 and 15, 2020 actually happened after the peak electricity demand of the day had already taken place on both these rolling blackout days.
The peak electricity demand occurred at 4:56 PM on the 14th and 5:37 PM on the 15th but the rolling blackouts didn’t commence until 6:51 PM and 6:26 PM respectively as clearly shown in the diagram below.
The reason this occurred was that the unreliable renewables of solar and wind were declining in generation output (big surprise – the sun goes down and the wind doesn’t blow) faster than the electricity load was declining and there were insufficient natural gas power plants available or import of as-available market energy from other states to pick-up the continuing load demand.
This occurrence was a classic example of why unreliable renewables are a lousy way to try and run a reliable electric system and why California’s politically contrived future mandates for a 100% renewable generation scheme are a hugely expensive pipe dream destined for failure.
It is also the reason why the CPUC extended the life of a number of dispatchable natural gas power plants including Huntington Beach, Long Beach and Redondo Beach (as well as additional power plants in the state) and required these plants to negotiate firm capacity power purchase contracts to guarantee the power will be available this summer (versus trying to rely on the uncertainty of as-available market energy) despite the objections of electric system grid reliability ignorant renewable energy advocates and climate alarmists.
On August 16 Governor Newsom declared a State of Emergency and on August 17 Executive Order N-74-20 was issued with these measures allowing additional fossil generation resources to operate including stationary and portable generators as well as auxiliary ship engines and suspending restrictions on fuel, power generation and air quality rules which would have limited generation from these additional emergency generation resources.
These measures added over 4,000 MW of additional generation that precluded California rolling blackouts later in August and September of 2020.
Unreliable renewable energy cannot provide firm capacity and adequate firm capacity is a mandatory requirement for a reliable electric system.
The greater the share of renewable energy relied upon by the state (or for that matter the U.S. and other world nations) the more difficult and expensive the measures become to maintain electric grid reliability that require larger and larger amounts of backup dispatchable (meaning reliable) fossil generation to be available.
This electric system reliability reality is why all nations (and states) mandating high renewable energy use have much higher electricity rates.
The California report addressing the states failures in protecting against the year 2020 blackouts attempts to hide behind specious claims that the heat wave experienced during these blackouts was caused by “climate change”. The media repeats these specious claims that are scientifically unsupported with these assertions being nothing but climate alarmist politics.
There is no scientifically proven methodology to connect regional climate events such as heat waves to global CO2 emissions and claims otherwise represent nothing but speculation and conjecture. Additionally the EPA data on heat waves shows no “climate change” trend link regarding the history of the U.S. heat wave index during the last 120 years.
The Los Angeles Almanac shows that the record high temperatures recorded over the last 150 years at Los Angeles for July, August and September occurred on July 25 at 109 degrees F in 1891, August 19 at 106 degrees F in 1885 and September 27 at 113 degrees F in 2010. The climate alarmist claims that we are experiencing record high summer temperatures in Los Angeles or elsewhere because of “climate change” are pure bunk.
Despite all the costly and reliability damaging renewable energy mandates imposed by California the latest EIA energy data shows California still used emissions producing fuels to meet about 81% of its total energy needs versus 83% in year 2006 which is little changed from 15 years ago. The Electricity economic sector now represents about 20% of California’s total energy use versus about 23% in 2006.
The reduction in the state’s GHG emissions since 2006 is claimed to be about 55 million metric tons. As addressed later in this essay this magnitude of emissions reduction is globally trivial, completely insignificant and totally useless in preventing the continuing huge upward climb of global emissions dictated by the world’s developing nations led by China and India.
The state’s Transportation and Industrial economic sectors account for the great majority of California’s total GHG emissions representing 65% of the states total emissions. The states Residential, Commercial and Agricultural economic sectors account for another 20% of the states total emissions.
The state’s Electricity economic sector accounts for only about 9% of California’s total GHG emissions but has provided about 75% of the states total GHG emissions reductions achieved since year 2006.
The state has about run out of its costly and unreliable political schemes to further exploit its Electricity economic sector to achieve additional GHG emissions reductions and will have to begin to take economically harsh means to attack other economic sectors especially the Transportation sector (take cars away from lower income people and force them to use mass transit and mandate high cost EV’s that only the wealthy can afford) and Industrial sector (kill dozens of state industries forcing them out of state along with millions of jobs) to achieve further mandated reductions.
Climate alarmists in the state have been pushing the increased use of mass transit to decrease emissions from tens of millions of cars and vans but the global Covid 19 pandemic has had a chilling effect on rider’s appetites for commuting on crowded and many times schedule inefficient mass transit systems. The New York Times recently carried an article depicting the devastating impact the pandemic has had on mass transit systems around the globe with these impacts carrying long term consequences for the future given the large uncertainties about public safety from this global wide disease and its variants.
Notwithstanding the limited ability to further reduce emissions in the states Electricity sector California has foolishly mandated that by 2045 all electricity will be provided by renewable energy.
This ridiculous and purely politically contrived scheme will significantly increase costs to electricity users and also further jeopardize electric grid reliability which the state has demonstrated it is incompetent at addressing as shown by the blackouts in year 2020 caused by excessive reliance on unreliable renewables and the states erroneous and required shutdown of existing reliable natural gas power plants.
Having shutdown these needed power plants the state then failed to provide for sufficient firm power contracts of dispatchable, reliable and lower cost natural gas power plants needed for achieving electric grid reliability and instead relied upon being able to import as available energy (non-firm energy that may or may not be available) from outside California to meet electric system requirements.
These electric system grid reliability and increased cost problems will become greatly magnified in the future as larger and larger amounts of dispatchable backup generation are required to preclude power interruptions as more and more unreliable renewable energy is mandated for use on the electric system.
There remains an unresolved issue regarding CO2 emissions reduction claims made by California because of the increasingly severe wildfires that have occurred during this period.
The state had assumed wildfire emissions would be neutral. However, the states wildfire emissions assessments show a significant increase in these emissions in the last decade indicating the assumed neutral emissions outcome is questionable.
The wildfire emissions data for year 2020 alone exceeded 100 million metric tons of CO2 compared to the average CO2 emissions over the last two decades of only about 14 million metric tons of CO2 (with the decade from 2010 to 2019 having higher average emissions than the prior 2000 to 2009 decade). The year 2020 increase in wildfire emissions overwhelms the CO2 emissions reductions achieved since 2006 of about 65 million metric tons.
California’s climate alarmists claim “climate change” is responsible for this wildfire outcome but an extensive 2018 California Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) report presents clear and compelling evidence demonstrating that decades of forest mismanagement by the state have in fact created the growing wildfire crisis.
The LAO report notes that increased fire risks are present throughout California driven by forest conditions that have been allowed by the state to develop for decades. A short summary of some the reports key findings is provided below that documents long standing neglect by the state.
“Forest management” is generally defined as the process of planning and implementing practices for the stewardship and use of forests to meet specific environmental, economic, social, and cultural objectives. Activities forest managers employ include timber harvesting (typically for commercial purposes), vegetation thinning (clearing out small trees and brush, often through mechanical means or prescribed burns), and reforestation (planting new trees).”
“As noted above, forest management practices and policies over the past several decades have (1) imposed limitations on timber harvesting, (2) emphasized fire suppression, and (3) instituted a number of environmental permitting requirements. These practices and policies have combined to constrain the amounts of trees and other growth removed from the forest. This has significantly increased the density of trees in forests across the state, and particularly the prevalence of smaller trees and brush. Overall tree density in the state’s forested regions increased by 30 percent between the 1930s and the 2000s.”
“These changes have also contributed to changing the relative composition of trees within the forest such that they now have considerably more small trees and comparatively fewer large trees.”
“The increase in tree density can have a number of concerning implications for California’s forests—including increased mortality caused by severe wildfires and disease—as displayed in the figure and discussed below.”
“In addition to increasing fire risk, overcrowded forests and the associated competition for resources can also make forests less resilient to withstanding other stressors. For example, trees in dense stands become more vulnerable to disease—including infestations of pests such as bark beetles—and less able to endure water shortages from drought conditions.
This vulnerability has been on display in recent years, as an estimated 129 million trees in California’s forests died between 2010 and 2017, including over 62 million dying in 2016 alone. While this is a relatively small share of the over 4 billion trees in the state, historically, about one million of California’s trees would die in a typical year. Moreover, most of the die‑off is occurring in concentrated areas. For example, the Sierra National Forest has lost nearly 32 million trees, representing an overall mortality rate of between 55 percent and 60 percent. When dead trees fall to the ground they add more dry combustible fuel for fires, as well as pose risks to public safety when they fall onto buildings, roads, and power lines.”
The report promotes the importance of using mechanical thinning and prescribed burns to manage the forest health and addresses the problems precluding sufficient use of these measures.
“Several Limitations Constrain Use of Prescribed Fire. There are three main conditions that must be met in order for a prescribed burn to take place under VMP (Vegetation Management Program). First, all documentation—including a burn plan, CEQA compliance, and air quality permits—must be completed by the landowner and Cal Fire for the project in advance. Second, Cal Fire firefighters must be available in the same geographical area as the project in order to conduct the burn. Third, weather conditions and other factors—such as wind speed, humidity, temperature, and air quality—must be within specified limits established in the burn plan and air quality permit.”
“Dense forest stands that are proliferated with small trees and shrubs contain masses of combustible fuel within close proximity, and therefore can facilitate the spread of wildfires. Moreover, these smaller trees can serve as “ladder fuels” that carry wildfire up into the crowns of taller trees that might have otherwise been out of reach, adding to a fire’s potential spread and intensity. Cal Fire estimates that most forested regions of the state face a high to extreme threat of wildfires.”
“The amount of timber harvested in California on both private and public lands over the past 60 years shown in the diagram below. While subject to annual variation, total timber harvesting in California has declined by over two‑thirds since the late 1950s. As shown in the figure, harvest rates have dropped from over 4.8 billion board feet in1988—its recent peak—to about 900 million in 2009, when it was at its lowest in recent history—a decline of over 80 percent.”
“These trends are due to a variety of factors, including changes in state and federal timber harvesting policies. For example, several federal laws were passed in the 1970s that shifted the USFS’s forest management objectives away from production forestry and more toward conservation and ecosystem management. Those laws included the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)—which requires federal agencies to evaluate any actions that could have a significant effect on the environment—and the Endangered Species Act—which prohibits federal agencies from carrying out actions that might adversely affect a species listed as threatened or endangered. Environmental protection policies have also contributed to declines in private harvests, along with other factors.”
Despite the overwhelming evidence contained in the LAO wildfire analysis report regarding the state’s mismanagement of California forests climate alarmists continue to ignore these clear and compelling findings and make scientifically unsupported claims that “climate change” has driven wildfires in California with these flawed claims hyped by bogus main-stream media articles.
The national and global outcomes for CO2 emissions during the AB32 period and mandates for further reductions must be evaluated to determine if there is any emissions reduction benefit resulting from California’s costly decreased emission schemes as viewed from a larger perspective that includes the U.S. and other global nations (after all it is the “Global Warming Solutions Act”).
The U.S. reduced CO2 emissions between its peak high year of 2007 through year 2019 by 920 million metric tons more than any other nation in the world during this period. These reductions were largely the result of increased use of lower cost, higher efficiency and lower emissions natural gas obtained through fracking that was used to replace higher emission, lower efficiency and higher cost coal fuel power plants.
Biden and the energy incompetent climate alarmist Democratic Party along with their media supporters have concealed these U.S. emission reductions as well as the huge benefits of natural gas obtained through fracking technology from the American people.
The combination of using lower emission natural gas in highly efficient combined cycle gas turbine power plants resulted in 60% lower CO2 emissions from these plants versus from coal power plants.
These actions resulted in lowering electricity costs, significantly decreasing CO2 emissions and maintaining higher electric grid reliability.
Biden and the Democratic Party’s “war” against natural gas is inexcusable and demonstrates their colossal energy and climate incompetence that will create completely unnecessary and damaging economic and reliability outcomes for the country.
The world’s developed countries (OECD nations) including the EU and U.S. reduced CO2 emissions during this period (2007 to 2019) by about 1.65 billion metric tons (a decrease of 12%).
The world’s developing nations increased CO2 emissions by about 5.7 billion metric tons (an increase of over 35%) during this period with China’s emissions increasing to a level twice those of the U.S. with coal fuel dominating energy use by these nations. In 2019 China alone used 2.5 times more coal than all 37 nations that make up the OECD (the world’s developed nations) which includes the U.S. and EU.
Because of the developing nations huge energy and emissions growth (43% energy increase and 35% emissions increase) between 2007 and 2019 global CO2 emissions grew by over 4 billion metric tons.
All global CO2 emission increases during this period (2007 to 2019) are solely the responsibility of the world’s developing nations that now account for over 65% of all global emissions. These nations dominate global energy use and completely control the ever upward rise of global CO2 emissions and have proclaimed the need to use more coal and other fossil fuels in the future while refusing to address energy emissions issues as requested by a number of the developed nations.
California’s costly emissions reductions efforts are globally irrelevant, elitist and purely political theatre given the huge emissions increases of the world’s developing nations along with these nations clear plans to further grow their future use of coal and other fossil fuels that will significantly increase global emissions.
The U.S. is already on a cost-effective path to reduce future emissions with increased use of lower cost, higher efficiency and lower emission natural gas obtained through fracking to replace higher emission coal plants. It is economic suicide and environmentally unjustified for the U.S. to spend trillions of dollars in trying to pursue emissions reductions that will simply be overwhelmed by increased emissions from the developing nations and their unwavering commitment to more use of fossil fuels.
China increased its coal fuel use in year 2020 versus 2019 accounting for 53% of global coal power and increasing coal related CO2 emissions by an additional several hundred million metric tons even in the global economic decline pandemic year. China also approved 46.1 GW of new coal-fired projects last year, more than the previous three years combined, with new projects still getting the go-ahead until late in the year
India is currently going ahead with its second tranche of commercial coal mine auctions, where 67 mines across the country were offered for auctions. A constant increase in production is critical to support its expanding fleet of coal plants. India is currently constructing coal plants with capacity of 36.6 GW and a further 29.3 GW are in the pipeline. India increased CO2 emissions during the 2007 to 2019 period by over 82%.
Claims by Democrats in California and by Biden and the Democratic Party at the national level along with their biased media manipulators that emissions reduction efforts mandating use of costly unreliable renewables are needed to “fight climate change” are politically contrived and deliberately dishonest. Claims that there is a “climate emergency” are equally absurd.
Biden and the Democrats conceal any mention of the total dominance of global energy use and emissions by the world’s developing nations as well as conceal the huge emissions reductions the U.S. has achieved (920 million metric tons) through use of lower cost, higher efficiency and lower emissions natural gas obtained by fracking technology.
The developing nations are clearly proceeding with increased use of fossil fuels to further grow their economies with huge increased emissions being inevitable. Biden, his Democrats (as well as Newsom in California) are trying to get the American people to fork over trillions of dollars in economically damaging and globally useless efforts to reduce U.S. emissions so the world’s developing nations can continue to hugely increase future energy use and emissions that benefit their global economic growth.
These schemes are politically misguided and economically destructive to our nation with media driven efforts targeted toward distorting and deceiving the nation into believing that they are needed to address phony claims of “fighting climate change” that amount to nothing but propaganda.
There is no legitimate energy, emissions or scientific justification for Biden and the Democratic Party or California Democrats to be imposing “climate emergency” schemes mandating the use of costly and unreliable renewable energy.