Obama’s Clean Power Plan Is Bad News for California

The White House recently released its Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

The White House recently released its Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent by 2030. Almost immediately, California Gov. Jerry Brown praised the plan, claimed it should be the model for international agreements and touted California’s own statewide plans. But California’s carbon control program should be a warning to the rest of the country, not an endorsement of the president’s plan.
California’s Assembly Bill 32, passed in 2006, mandates the state to lower greenhouse gas to 1990 levels by 2020, mainly by forcing utilities to purchase one-third of their electricity from renewable sources and by imposing a convoluted carbon cap-and-trade system. Before AB32, California had some of the least reliable and most expensive electricity in the nation, the most expensive gasoline and among the highest rate of unemployment. AB32 made each of those problems worse, not better.
California’s gasoline prices are typically $1 a gallon more than most other states and electricity prices are 33 percent higher than the average of other states. Higher energy prices, coupled with stagnant employment numbers, have contributed to California’s poverty rate being much worse than the rest of the country. Other states are likely to suffer a similar fate if they follow California’s lead by implementing the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.
Like California’s AB32, the Clean Power Plan envisages a significant increase in the proportion of electricity supplied by renewable power, much of which will allegedly come from intermittent sources such as solar and wind. When the wind doesn’t blow, and when it blows too hard, wind turbines must stand idle. Wind power cannot be stored up for when you need it. Similarly, the sun doesn’t shine at night and storing solar power is expensive. To keep the state’s lights on and the air conditioning functioning – even when the wind is not blowing and sun is not shining – power grid operators must rely on power from additional sources, usually gas turbines that can rapidly be spun up.
Even so, maintaining stability on a grid using intermittent sources subject to unpredictable and rapid changes in supply is challenging. The North American Electricity Reliability Corporation notes that solar and wind tend to reduce grid reliability, meaning outages and blackouts occur more frequently. As the proportion of power from intermittent sources increases, grid operators will be forced to spend billions of dollars on new technologies that enable them to balance power generation with demand.
While some Californians may be tempted to smirk at the idea of other states suffering the same energy fate as us, the reality is that the federal energy plan will worsen California’s woes. The state currently imports over 30 percent of its electricity – even more in summer months when air conditioning loads peak. While a third of that is carbon-free hydroelectric from the Northwest, most of the rest comes from coal-fired power plants in the Southwest. But the Environmental Protection Agency’s new plan will force many of these coal plants to shut down. That will hurt California – leaving it vulnerable to brownouts and blackouts.
You might think there must be some benefit from these disastrous costs. Well, maybe, but not much. Even assuming that the prognostications of the administration’s climate pessimists prove correct, the Clean Power Plan would reduce temperatures maybe by approximately two-hundredths of a degree. Meanwhile, California’s plan would reduce global temperatures by less than one-hundredth of one degree. Such changes are, for all intents and purposes, unmeasurable – and are certainly not enough to affect rainfall or sea levels.
While political leaders in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. have put Californians on a carbon reduction diet, the leadership in China, India and other emerging industrial giants have made no such commitment.
Just as AB32 has forced California to outsource its energy production to other states, the Clean Power Plan will ultimately force America to outsource more of its energy-intensive industrial production, and the jobs that go with it, to other countries. That’s potentially a lot of pain for very little or no environmental gain.
Tom Tanton is senior fellow and Julian Morris is vice president of research at Reason Foundation. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register.