McClaughry: Renewable energy and blackouts

By John McClaughry

A year ago the California Public Utilities Commission warned that the state could face an energy shortage on hot summer evenings as early as 2021. Its projection was off by a year. On Aug. 14, between 200,000 and 250,000 California residents experienced rolling blackouts.

Officialdom and the media have blamed the blackouts on a heat wave — too many people turned up too many air conditioners. But the same heat wave did not cause blackouts in Nevada and Arizona, or in California in equally hot past years. Why in California on Aug. 14?

John McClaughry

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

A Wall Street Journal editorial from Aug. 17 explains: “Democrats have mandated that renewables account for 60% of [California’s] electricity by 2030, which has forced power providers to invest in renewable energy sources now to meet the deadline. … During peak daylight hours, California produces a surplus of solar energy, and power generators may be ordered or paid to cut back their production so the grid isn’t overloaded.

“But supply shortages can occur in the evening when solar energy plunges but demand remains high. … California’s antipathy even to natural gas and nuclear power has resulted in higher energy prices and now power surpluses and shortages because renewables are intermittent energy sources.”

“Take out all of the solar and wind capacity,” energy analyst Francis Menton writes, “and California has only about 43 gigawatts of capacity to meet demand that could well exceed that on any hot summer day. And to get to that 43 gigawatts, you would need all other facilities up and running at absolutely full capacity with no scheduled or unscheduled outages, which is not realistic. As more and more reliable fossil fuel and nuclear facilities get closed in favor of wind and solar, the problem looks set to worsen dramatically over the next several years.”

Now let’s look at similarly renewable-infatuated Vermont. Over the past 20 years Vermont’s climate activists have built a full-throated movement to achieve Gov. Peter Shumlin’s declared goal of meeting 90% of Vermont’s total energy demand with renewables — wind, solar, imported hydro, and wood — by 2050.

Their particular bugaboo was the dependable 285-megawatt Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, that emitted none of the greenhouse gases that those activists believe are driving the Menace of Global Warming. The plant’s owners, fed up with never-ending litigation costs, regular extortions to stay in operation, and price competition from suddenly plentiful natural gas-powered electricity, closed the plant in 2014.

The activists’ shining vision is a fossil-fuel-free Vermont of super-insulated homes and businesses with electric heat pumps, and an increase from today’s 3,600 electric vehicles to 60,000 in the next four years, coupled with a ban on human settlement outside of approved downtown centers to reduce the need for transportation energy.

The January 2020 State Energy Report says: “These uses will likely add significantly to the amount of electricity used by Vermonters, and one of the more significant challenges will be managing this new load to minimize impacts on the electric system.”

Where will this new electricity come from if nuclear and natural gas energy is ruled out? Doubling electricity imported from HydroQuebec would help, but VPIRG’s “Energy Independent Vermont” campaign would have to be abandoned. Vermont would have to find hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize an astonishing amount of renewables, mainly solar PV farms, since Big Wind is now out of favor.

Forcing ratepayers to pay ever higher electric bills would cover some of those subsidies, but the most tempting revenue source would be a carbon tax on fossil fuels. For five years the activists have tried and failed to enact a carbon tax, to the point where they have quit openly advocating for it. And if they could tax fossil fuel out of Vermont, the carbon tax revenues would disappear. The most they can hope for now is getting Vermont into the multistate Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), which would put increasingly heavier tax burdens on motor fuels, not to pay for highways and bridges, but to subsidize electrification and, yes, more renewable generation.

Vermont energy expert Meredith Angwin, whose book on New England’s electric future is due out in October, tells us that “New England will probably have rolling blackouts by 2025, due to reliance on intermittent renewables plus just-in-time deliveries of natural gas. However, our blackouts will occur in winter, because that is when natural gas is used for heating and is less available to fuel our generating plants.” Not good.

With steadily increasing electricity demand and the increasing reliance on renewables, Vermont’s blackout likelihood is likely to grow. No amount of subsidized solar farms and wind towers is going to provide enough electricity to prevent those blackouts on cold January days. It’s just a question of how soon.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Images courtesy of Public domain and John McClaughry
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15 thoughts on “McClaughry: Renewable energy and blackouts

  1. This really makes me laugh, here the country is with cities burning down, people shooting eachother by the dozen now every weekend in major cities, we’re dealing with a fake pandemic, over 40 million people outta work, 7 outta 10 people believe we are moving towards civil war, and here you are talking about solar panels and windmills.

    You remember those colleges shutting down Vermont? and that was BEFORE this fake pandemic.
    What that should tell you is that the state is in serious trouble, shouldn’t that be like your number one topic?
    I read a whole lot of news every day and no one is talking about this baloney right now- except for Vermont. Good Grief, wake up and get your priorities straightened out. This is embarrassing.

    • I love knowing there are sane people here in Vermont Laura. I wish I could find more. I wish more would vote. Thank you for a breath of fresh comment.

    • There’s more than you describe Laura…….And it gets worse when considering the impact the GWSA will have on mitigating global climate change.

      While the Vermont Legislature continues fiddling with details of the GWSA aka The Lawyers’ Full Employment Act” aka “The Everyone Must Do Their Part Act …….China and India with a combined population of 2.8 billion (4,400 times greater than Vermont) continue to build coal fired power plants at home and around the world. Then add in Japan that has announced that it will now be building more coal fired power plants.

      What’s going on in the real world demonstrates the absolute futility of the GWSA……..

      If Vermont’s GWSA is 100 times more productive than hoped, it would still make no difference…..It’s time for the legislature to expend its energy and the tax payers’ dollars on efforts that will make a real, positive and measurable difference for citizens of Vermont.

  2. California is a failed state at this point, it’s so broken, corrupt and insane, I wouldn’t listen to a word that comes outta that place. California is another state just like Vermont that is emptying out fast as people flee the sinking ship.
    People are not fleeing because it’s all working so great!
    So why on earth would anyone want to copy anything at all going on in a failed state that people are moving out of in droves?
    How about using some simple common sense here?

    People in Vermont fail to understand what all of this is even about, it’s not about saving the earth.
    This is just another giant ponzi scheme-like rackett. I mean gimme a break, in light of all you have going on there I can’t even believe you are talking about windmills.

  3. I used to work with a couple of California transplants and they always used to brag about California leading the way. Heaven forbid California’s misguided attempt to go green will move throughout the country. The greenies in Montpelier should take notice. Alas, they won’t,

  4. “Compounding the danger is the unfortunate reality that California’s electricity capacity — arguably the most “green” in the nation — can’t handle the demand needed to run the air conditioning.”

    California “relying” on UNRELIABLE RENEWABLES yields a display of utter foolishness, when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing, which often happens in California, Germany, and New England THROUGHOUT the year.

    A few decades ago, Denmark had NO MEANINGFUL wind for TWO MONTHS.

    Governor Newsom claiming this was a surprise, or a failure in planning, is an utter lie/hogwash/horse manure.
    His own energy systems engineers have been telling him for years you cannot shut down 9000 MW of RELIABLE supply.
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/08/18/operators-fighting-with-politicians-to-keep-grid-from-collapse/

    I am so glad the great state of California is a “leader” in stupidity.
    Vermont RE bureaucrats should learn from this, instead of stupidly/mindlessly “emulating” California.

    IT GETS WORSE

    California is planning to shut down more traditional plants.

    In “preparation” for that next heat wave to hit California’s growing population, the California dysfunctional RE bureaucrats are planning on shutting down four power plants that have been providing continuous electricity to the grid.

    The four upcoming losses of continuous generating electricity are:

    1. PG&E’s Nuclear 2,160 megawatt Generating Plant at Diablo Canyon is to be shuttered in 2024.
    2. The 823 mw Natural Gas Power Plant at Scattergood in Playa Del Rey, to be shuttered in 2024.
    3. The 575 mw Natural Gas Power Plant at Haynes in Long Beach, to be shuttered in 2029.
    4. The 472 mw Natural Gas Power Plant at Wilmington, to be shuttered in 2029.

    For a state that IMPORTS more electricity than any other state in America, now at 32 percent, and already has the highest cost of electricity, c/kWh, in the country for its 40 million residents, the dysfunctional energy policies have no plans to replace the capacity being lost from those four power plant closures, other than building out more of unreliable solar and wind.

    The “hope” is that the Northwest and Southwest will be able to generate enough power for import by California to meet the electricity demands of California.

    But that HOPE is ill-founded during a multi-day heat wave.

    GWSA should be immediately cancelled, even though it was “passed” by a lot of uninformed Legislators

    The only thing that makes any sense in Vermont is 1) energy conservation, 2) energy efficiency, and 3) highly-insulated and highly-sealed, zero-net-energy, buildings, all over the state, by the thousands, each year.

    • And how – willem post – do you propose Vermont will pay for the things you list as making sense, especially #3? Do you think Vermonters have enough money to pay for this in their businesses? Do they get any kind of tax breaks for adding this kind of energy efficiency? I have talked the owners of the local businesses that I use and they question why the hell they even stay in Vermont. I would love to add solar to my home, not feed it into the grid so I will not be left without power when these rolling blackouts start, but guess what? We make too much money to get any kind of incentive for adding it. But if you make less than some ridiculously low number you can get breaks, but at those incomes those people cannot afford it. I have an idea – let’s revolt and unvote the 80% of our property taxes going into the education system in this state and say make it something reasonable, like 40%, because Lord knows the amount of money we put in sure as hell doesn’t put us #1 in the nation in educational outcome, and give businesses incentive to stay here.

  5. California Blackouts: It’s Not Just the Heat, It’s Also the Anti-Nuclear Power Stupidity

    RE dreamers oppose a huge source of reliable, climate-friendly electricity that could have prevented the rolling blackouts in the Golden State.

    Rolling electric power blackouts afflicted as many as 2 million California residents last week as a heat wave gripped the Golden State. (It’s apparently eased up for now.)

    At the center of the problem is that power demand peaks as overheated people turn up their air conditioning in the late afternoon just as solar power goes to sleep to mid morning the NEXT day.

    In addition, output from California’s wind farms was erratic. Currently, about 33 percent of California’s electricity comes from renewable sources as mandated by state law, ON AN ANNUAL BASIS. SOME DAYS THERE IS NEAR ZERO WIND AND SOLAR

    Until this summer, California utilities and grid operators were able to purchase extra electricity from other states, but the current heat wave stretches from Texas to Oregon so there was little to none available to make up for California’s power shortage.

    Completely ignored is that California has been shutting down a huge source of safe, reliable, always-on, non-carbon dioxide–emitting, climate-friendly electricity—that is, nuclear power.

    In 2013, state regulators forced the closing of the San Onofre nuclear power plant that supplied electricity to 1.4 million households.

    By 2025, California regulators plan to close down the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant that can supply electricity to 3 million households.

    The problem of climate change, along with the blackouts resulting from the inherent vagaries of wind and solar power, are an indication that California should not only keep its nuclear power plants running but also build many more of them.

  6. John,

    GWSA is improper legislation.
    It is a vehicle for Vermont RE companies to get RICH for decades, at everyone else’s expense
    It is flagrantly indecent with an ongoing multi-year recession and high unemployment
    It is iiredeemable
    It is flawed from A TO Z
    It should not exist in a free country, certainly not in the US.
    It disfranchises Vermonters for DECADES

    It is a means toward wholesale coercion of the people of Vermont, just to please the OWNERS of RE companies who stand to have enormously gain for DECADES (at the expense of all others), while engaging in useless/damaging activities that would not make ONE IOTA of impact regarding the climate.

    This craziness has got to end in NOVEMBER
    Vote the fanatic RE idiots out.
    Drain the bureaucratic RE swamp

    Most sane legislators would oppose GWSA, if it were not for the golden calf of PARTY UNITY.

    Liberal Dem/Prog-supported/subsidized VTDigger and SEVENDAYS have been suggested/ordered to not allow comments, because they were 10 to 1 AGAINST GWSA and other such awful/economy-damaging “legislation”

    THE VOICES OF THE PEOPLE ARE BEING MUFFLED/SNUFFED OUT, right here in Vermont

    • They have been for years. Since the trust fund hippies came here in droves beginning in the late 60’s and ruined VT. And since when the hell do those “anti-establishment” “F the Man” types now march in lockstep to Mask Mandates and Lockdowns and the new Marxism? What happened to them. . . .

  7. HOUSE BILL TO INCREASE IN-STATE SOLAR FROM 8.5% IN 2009 TO 20% IN 2032

    Is not it amazing, after EAN, VEIC and VELCO advocated solar build-outs that are totally unrealistic, the VT House comes out with a Bill to increase solar build-outs?

    This section has information from this Seven-Days article, which contained some interesting information.
    https://www.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/solar-flares-call-to-double-vermonts-renewable-energy-capacity-ignites-debate/Content?oid=29876195

    The Bill mandates utilities buy 20% of their electricity supply, about 1.2 BILLION kWh/y, from in-state RE sources which effectively means solar, because the other RE sources are barely growing.

    Solar:

    – Is, by far, the most expensive electricity in the portfolio of VT utilities, such as GMP. See Appendix.
    – Imposes the greatest threat to the stability of the grid, due to ever-larger DUCK-curves, as have happened in southern Germany and southern California
    – Would make the use of EVs and heat pumps prohibitively expensive.

    The Bill appears uncomplicated to lay people, and some legislators eager to please Vermont solar businesses, but is far from it, according to energy systems analysts at VT-DPS and GMP, who oppose the solar expansion for various reasons.

    – Vermont had installed 364.24 MW ac, or 438.84 MW dc, at end 2019, per ISO-NE/VT-DPS, which had a legacy capital cost of about $2 billion.
    – In 2019, solar electricity generation was about 475,248 MWh, or 475.25/6000 = 7.9% of supply to utilities, or 475.25/5600 = 8.5% of consumption via wall sockets.
    – Vermont installed solar would need to increase to about 20/8.5 x 438.84 = 1033 MW dc, at end 2032, per House Bill. See Note.
    – The additional capital cost would be about (1032 – 438.84) x $3 million/MW = $1.781 billion, or $137 million/y for 13 years, excluding:

    1) Grid extension/augmentation to connect solar systems and deal with solar variability
    2) Increased connections to nearby grids to minimize disturbances due to solar
    3) Any storage to deal with midday DUCK-curves
    4) Any inverter replacements in about year 12 and O&M

    Historically, items 1, 2 and 3 have been charged to ratepayers, taxpayers, and added to government debt.
    If they had been charged to owners of solar systems, they would be a lot less eager to have solar.

    NOTE: Legislators, and pro RE-entities, usually offer the “easy-talk/hand-waving” option of “we do this and that, by that date, and Vermonters will save lots of money, and save the climate”.
    However, the experts at VT-DPS and GMP have no choice, but to evaluate the A to Z picture of cost and physical implications of increased solar on:

    1) Electric rates, c/kWh
    2) Stability of the grid
    3) Expansion/reinforcement of the grid
    4) Substations on grids with solar systems needing to be arranged to receive and send power.

    If they did not, all hell may break loose, such as costs/kWh going through the roof, and the grid becoming unstable, especially on sunny days and variable-cloudy days, at some future date.
    http://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/vermont-solar-market-pa….

    Wind/Solar Lulls

    Some Bill proponents likely do not realize, Vermont (and New England, and Germany and Denmark, etc.) often has wind/solar lulls (extended overcast periods, with rain or snow, and little or no wind) of up to 5 to 7 days, i.e., the combined wind/solar output that could have been expected, for that time of year, is, in fact, less than 15% of expectations. Sometimes, a second lull follows the first one a few days later.
    Where would the shortfall come from?
    Traditional generators in nearby states?
    Storage?
    https://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/the-vagaries-of-solar-

  8. EAN, VEIC, and VELCO Goals of 1000 MW of Solar by 2025 are Self-Serving and Unrealistic

    Their goals appear to be extremely dubious with:

    1) The federal EV tax credit having been cancelled
    2) The federal ITC, residential, going from 30% in 2019, 26% in 2020, 22% in 2021, 0% in 2022, and later years
    3) The federal ITC, commercial, going from 30% in 2019, 26% in 2020, 22% in 2021, 10% in 2022, and later years
    4) Vermont’s economy in a multi-year recession, with high unemployment, due to the virus economy.
    5) ASHPs Marginally Effective for Reducing CO2 in Average Vermont Houses. See ASHP URL
    6) EVs Minimally Reducing CO2 Compared with Efficient Gasoline Vehicles. See EV URL
    7) The recent FERC PURPA update to ensure proper competition, i.e., no politics-inspired sweetheart deals.

    Major increases of taxes, fees and surcharges on ratepayers, taxpayers, and adding to government debt to pay for their self-serving, dubious claims, likely would not be a palatable option

    In comments to the PUC, the Department of Public Service contended in March, 2020, NET-METERED compensation rates should go down. The department has not updated its comments since the coronavirus tabled the proceedings.

    NET-METERING SOLAR CHARGED TO UTILITY RATE BASE AT 21.7 c/kWh

    “Our concern has been — and the reason we recommended reducing compensation back in March was — on a per kWh basis, net metering is almost twice as expensive as what you can get for STANDARD OFFER AND UTILITY solar,” said Ed McNamara, director of the department’s Regulated Utility Planning Division.

    McNamara says net metering installations disproportionately go to wealthier (VIRTUE-SIGNALING) towns and then drive up rates for lower-income electric customers in rural/poorer areas.

    “The economic disparity is still a concern, and actually has been heightened in the last few months,” he said.

    McNamara says that lowering NET-METERING compensation rates — and in turn, electricity costs — could help the state promote the use of electric vehicles and heat pumps.

    “Being a state agency, our responsibility is to all Vermonters as a whole,” he said. “And right now, you actually have the greatest number of folks who have unpaid electric bills that we’ve ever had in Vermont. So adding more of an economic burden to those folks who can’t already pay their eclectic bills is a concern.”

    SUBSIDIZED SOLAR PROFITEERS AIDED AND ABETTED BY LEGISLATORS

    James Moore of SunCommon, politically well-connected, wants to build-out solar for solar’s sake, because he makes good money installing solar systems. He does not care about:

    1) Net-Metered solar and Standard-Offer solar being charged to the utility rate base at up to 21.7 c/kWh, whereas such solar is worth to a utility about 8.5 c/kWh; N-M and S-O are the most expensive energy sources in the GMP electricity supply mix. See Appendix
    2) The capital cost of expensive grid extension/augmentation to physically connect solar systems and expensive battery storage to subsequently deal with their output variations. See Solar Coddling Services.
    3) Ratepayers, taxpayers, etc., paying through the nose, while they are being told various fables/fantasies about Vermont fighting climate change. See explanation of cost-shifting in Table 4.
    4) His subsidy-fueled solar job creation causing increased costs, decreased job creation, and anemic growth in other sectors.

    Free Solar Coddling Services: James Moore does not care about midday, grid-disturbing, DUCK-curves, and grid-disturbing downward output spikes due to variable cloudy weather.

    Owners of other generators, mostly gas turbine plants, are required to rapidly decrease their outputs to let his unruly, unreliable, expensive, solar onto the grid, starting around mid-morning, and then they are required to rapidly increase their outputs to fill the void, as solar nods off to go to sleep, starting late-afternoon/early-evening (a period with peak demands, mind you), until about mid-morning the next day.

    A rational person likely would think it is a true miracle, that solar, being such an expensive, troublesome, mostly absent “worker”, is getting all these subsidies, plus free coddling services.

  9. In Vermont, the only thing that makes any sense is to stop “emulating” California, immediately scrap GWSA, and concentrate on:

    1) Energy conservation
    2) Energy efficiency
    3) Building net-zero-energy houses and other buildings by the thousands each year
    4) Using high-mpg vehicles

    The above 4 items would save money for Vermonters, and make the state economy more competitive

    All of the rest is just expensively subsidized hogwash that would not make one iota of difference regarding climate change.

    It merely serves to subsidize the OWNERS of RE companies in Vermont, AT THE EXPENSE OF EVERYONE ELSE.

    YOU GIVE TO PAUL, YOU HAVE TO ROB PETER

    THERE IS NO FREE LUNCH

  10. Before Gov. Scott gives any consideration to signing the GWSA, he and all the people of Vermont need answers to all the serious problems being outlined about this legislation.

    So what do the Chairs of the legislative committees that gave us the GWSA, the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee and the House Committee on Energy and Technology have to say about John’s many commentaries on the topic, the reams of technical and economic problems with GWSA well documented by Willem Post, the actual California blackouts and Mark Whitworth’s call for a veto of the bill?

    Given the myriad problems outlined, are the respective Senate and House Chairs, Sen. Chris Bray and Rep. Tim Briglin who produced the GWSA, satisfied that this new law is ready for unleashing on the State?

    It’s time that the leaders in the Legislature publicly address the very serious issues being raised about the GWSA…….. Failure to do so, leaves the Governor no option except a veto of GWSA.

  11. Other third world countries get along with part time electricity, why not Vermont? Besides, this will motivate industry and citizens to leave the state, lowering the demand for gas, electricity, motor fuel – which will bring the state closer to the zero emissions goal thrilling the “back to nature” Greenies. Just one issue: What’s the point of all this? It won’t have any effect on Vermont’s climate; atmospheric air circulation carries virtually anything Vermont does east to New Hampshire.

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