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Renewable Energy: Bringing Blackouts Back to California?

Walter Russell Mead — The American Interest — February 27, 2013

The epidemic of power outages and “rolling blackouts” which nearly shut down California in the early 2000s may be returning. Back then, the culprits were unscrupulous energy providers like Enron and a poorly-thought out process of deregulation. This time, renewable energy would be to blame, as the state has pushed to increase the use of solar and wind energy without ensuring that there is enough traditional power generation to keep the grid stable on cloudy, windless days.

Although the blackouts haven’t happened yet, some are warning that they could begin to strike in the next couple of years. The Wall Street Journalexplains the problem:

The surplus generating capacity doesn’t guarantee steady power flow. Even though California has a lot of plants, it doesn’t have the right mix: Many of the solar and wind sources added in recent years have actually made the system more fragile, because they provide power intermittently.

Electricity systems need some surplus, so they can cover unexpected generator outages or transmission-line failures, but having too much can depress the prices generators can charge for electricity. In part because of low power prices, many gas-fired generation units aren’t profitable enough to justify refurbishments required by pending federal regulations under the Clean Water Act. That means they are likely to be shut by 2020, adding to the state’s power woes.

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