Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Counting the Costs of California's "Green Leap Forward"

For the most part, our criticisms of California's pursuit of a green-energy utopia are economic in nature. We've ripped into AB 32 on a number of occasions, and have chipped away at the new mandate to produce a third of the state's energy via renewables. We've mocked wasteful subsidies and plans-gone-wrong regarding unproven technologies, and continue to bemoan Sacramento's determination to tax and regulate the state's private economy to death in the name of clean air. (For the latest on this, see this report at Cal Watchdog.)

Yet the focus on jobs and wasted tax dollars, while legitimate, overlooks that California's Great (or Green) Leap Forward has real human costs. And it's in those costs that one sees something profoundly evil at work. You might recall the June report released by the California Council on Science and Technology, which offered a series of environmental-policy recommendations so draconian they recalled Pol Pot to at least one commentator. Insofar as the CCST is fairly representative of mainstream thinking in this state, we were alarmed that the totalitarian society the report envisioned (complete with extensive recommendations for behavior-change programs) was something that elite opinion wouldn't dismiss as dangerous lunacy. Yet a couple of stories have led us to wonder whether this lunacy isn't a sign of things to come.

One of these stories is something we mentioned a few weeks ago. In the sparsely inhabited Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles, two stories are dominating the news. First, LA County is pushing aggressively to give large parts of this lovely corner of the world over to wind and solar power projects; increasingly, they're becoming less subtle about pushing these projects closer to private land and natural wonders like the California Poppy Reserve. Second, the county is making a very concerted effort to destroy the homes of people who live in this area through its so-called Nuisance Abatement Teams. In a case that garnered national attention, the county has even used NATs to imprison a man, Alan Kimble Fahey, for (of all things) building code violations. Both of these things are the brainchild of county Supervisor Mike Antonovich. Which leads us to wonder whether large numbers of peaceful property owners being forcibly evicted by the county is a coincidence, when the same people want to put solar panels on the same land.

The other story was reported today at Cal Watchdog, and concerns Southern Cal Edison's transformation of the city of Chino Hills from an upper-middle-class bedroom community into an industrial park. In order to bring solar and wind power from sources in Kern and San Bernardino Counties, Edison has launched the $1.8 billion Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project. California, it must be said, appears to have designed its so-called Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (of which Tehachapi is part) with federal subsidies in mind. As such, the Public Utilities Commission and Edison have stonewalled the concerns of residents near its transmission facilities, choosing instead to preserve areas like Chino Hills State Park rather than address homeowners' concerns. Because, you know, trees! Yet the result is that the residents of Chino Hills are left with 200-foot towers carrying 500 kV power lines running (literally) right over them. If you have any fear of the cancer risks from living under power lines, you will not want to move to Chino Hills any time soon. Of course, in the interests of our Green Leap Forward, they might not be the last California town to go through this.


  1. Since power lines are not throwing off ionizing radiation, the cancer link is bogus.

    That said, I have been getting into it with some Green types on Facebook about this, and probably should do some more digging about the alleged benefits to the public of energy costs.

  2. ... erg, of energy costs supposedly saved by converting to solar.

  3. Fair enough. My point was less about the lines themselves than the blatant abuse of property rights.

  4. And given that the technology for storing solar energy and for making it available on-demand (generator-style) doens't exist yet, the costs are much higher.

  5. Sure. But schools don't generally operate 24/7.

    We were discussing Fremont High's conversion to solar.

    The big flaw I see in their arguments are that

    1) Is it really likely the CPUC will give PG&E 5.25% annual rate hikes? (On page 5 of the PDF, they admit the main utility of this system is as a hedge for rate increases.)
    2) The efficiency decline curves for the solar panels may actually be steeper than admitted. (Over time, hydrogen gets into the silicon lattice and degrades solar conversion efficiency.)
    3) Actual power production is a function of insolation, and thus may be better or worse than predicted.

    The PDF claims payback (though not break-even) in year 1 with the financing they have, but it seems to me that it's rather tenuous. If you squint hard, maybe it makes sense for an entity that is only open during the day and has the land to spare.