Government Mandates Threaten Electricity Supply in California and United Kingdom

By Tom Borelli

Politicians are always quick to advance policies that sound good but all too often they fail to consider the consequence of their actions.

A worldwide effort to combat global warming provides a great example highlighting the limitations of this type of feel good policies.

For years, governments around the world have implemented command and control policies that encourage the use of renewable energy and to reduce the amount of electricity from coal.

News from both California and the United Kingdom demonstrate the fallacy that big government knows best.

San Francisco was declared a state of emergency because the Rim wildfire that is burning close to Yosemite National Park is threatening part of the city’s electricity supply. Because of the fire, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission closed its Hetch Hetchy hydroelectric plants and transmission lines that power the city’s municipal buildings.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, in addition to water and sewer services, also provides “green hydroelectric and solar power to San Francisco’s municipal departments.”

A Wall Street Journal editorial drew attention to the risk associated with the Commission’s goal of 100% renewable energy:

The utility procures 97% of its power from Hetch Hetchy’s 400-megawatt hydroplants via roughly 150-mile transmission lines. New-generation renewables such as solar and biogas supply a mere 10 megawatts of municipal power because they require more space and capital to bring to scale. Trouble is, long transmission lines are at high risk to disruption in natural disasters.

One of the major limitations of using renewable energy as a power source is that it is most often located a great distance from where the energy is needed. In addition to losing power during the transmission, the power lines are susceptible to fire damage especially in California.

Thousands of miles away from California, the United Kingdom is facing possible power shortages resulting from European Union mandates.

From the National Geographic Daily News:

The main reason for the possible crunch: Britain is closing a number of aging coal-fired plants—as well as some oil and nuclear ones—to meet European Union environmental laws. One fifth of the existing power stations are scheduled to close over the next ten years.

When you reduce supply prices will rise:

Though Britain does face a bleak shortfall of energy in the coming years, “consumers are more at risk from higher prices than blackouts,” said Wilf Wilde, executive director of the Durham Energy Institute at Durham University.

As these examples show, government energy mandates put us at risk of energy shortages and higher utility bills. Feel good politics results in adverse consequences.