California Blackouts Help Make the Case for Natural Gas
Posted August 20, 2020
Natural gas as the essential partner for renewables such as wind and solar is something we’ve talked about a lot (see here, here and here). Californians have been schooled on this point recently, with millions suffering under rolling blackouts during soaring temperatures because electrical utilities couldn’t keep pace with skyrocketing demand.
The state’s renewables mandate has played a role in their misery. By requiring that 60% of California’s electricity must come from renewables by 2030 and through green energy subsidies, the state has seen the competitive balance tilt away from other, more flexible power sources, including cleaner natural gas.
During daytime hours, California enjoys a surplus in solar energy. But power demand doesn’t work just 9 to 5. At night, people still want and need to be comfortable in their homes, and during the recent heat wave there hasn’t been enough electricity to go around. The practical result has been rolling blackouts, a rationing of energy so to speak, leaving lots of Californians simmering. Lance Hastings, California Manufacturers and Technology Association president:
“Hot weather and a cloudy day should not be able to shut down the fifth-largest economy in the world.”
Also steamed was Gov. Gavin Newsom, who reportedly said the transition away from fossil fuels has left the state with a gap in the reliability of its energy system. Newsom said the state must examine its reliance on solar power and how that fits into its broader energy portfolio.
Former Gov. Gray Davis, whose own political career ran aground on an electricity crisis in 2000 and 2001, to Politico:
“The bottom line is, people don't want lights to go down. People also want a carbon-free future. Sometimes those two aspirations come into conflict. A smarter approach, in my judgment, is to have the power you need in reserve, even if it's somewhat carbon-based, to keep the lights on.”
That portfolio alluded to by Newsom and Davis has got to include a significant role for natural gas. This isn’t an either/or choice. The ability of natural gas to start immediately and ramp up rapidly make it critically important for the growth of intermittent renewable energy. Ernest Moniz, U.S. Energy secretary under President Obama, said natural gas “is the only reason California has survived” the times when renewable energy failed to reliably generate power.
Unfortunately for Californians, the Golden State is showing what can happen when government is in the business of picking winners and losers in the marketplace – the kind of approach to energy policy seen in some of the green energy proposals popular among activists and in the Twittersphere. The Wall Street Journal editorializes:
“Electricity blackouts are awful at any time, but especially during an extreme heat wave and for reasons that are man-made. That’s what millions in California have been enduring in recent days, and their plight is a warning to the rest of America about the risks of Green New Deal policies.”
Natural gas provides reliable, cleaner and affordable fuel to generate electricity and is the primary reason the U.S. has reduced carbon dioxide emissions more than any other nation since 2000, according to the International Energy Agency.
The capacity of natural gas to start immediately and ramp up rapidly, its overall resilience and other qualities also make it an essential partner for the growth of intermittent renewable energy – an especially important point to folks living in the Golden State right now.
Dustin Meyer, API director of Market Development:
“What we have now is more than a decade’s worth of evidence showing that displacing coal with a combination of low-cost, natural gas and increasingly affordable, renewable energy is a fantastic winning recipe for rapid and significant emissions reductions.”
Lest anyone accuse us of picking on California, the issue is larger than just one state. There, summer presents electricity challenges. In New England, which lacks sufficient natural gas infrastructure – too often because of policy choices – the crunch is in winter.
Neither should happen in a country that leads the world in natural gas and oil production. With the United States’ abundant energy reserves and industry technology and know-how, we shouldn’t be reading about rolling summer blackouts in one region or winter heat shortages in another.
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and six grandchildren.