Why California Keeps Having Blackouts


As Californians again experience rolling blackouts, and millions more are threatened with losing power, Stanford University economics and energy-markets professor Frank Wolak said it was clear  “California policy makers completely forgot the lessons from the crisis…in their rush to go green.”

Wolak explains California regulators have left the state dangerously exposed to buying large amounts of imported electricity on the spot market during peak periods on days when there is extreme energy demand. To learn more, read “Why California Keeps Having Blackouts.”(Reading this article requires a subscription.)

Key Takeaways:

  • On many days, California’s grid operator now has to find 10,000 to 15,000 megawatts of replacement power—sometimes 25% to 50% of what it needs to keep the lights on—during a three-hour period as solar and wind power falls off.
  • California often relies on imported power from other states to help fill its void. But when a historic heat wave gripped the Western U.S. this month, the state struggled to find a way to replace up to 8,000 megawatts of disappearing renewable energy each evening. 
  • Two numbers help explain why California finds itself scrounging for megawatts on many evenings. Between 2014 and 2018, the state reduced its consumption of electricity from natural gas-fired power plants by 21% according to the state’s energy commission. Over that same period, it increased renewable energy consumption by 54%.

Path to 100% Perspective: 

Michael Peevey, who served as president of the California Public Utilities Commission under three governors before stepping down at the end of 2014, was a key figure in implementing increasingly ambitious mandates by state politicians that required utilities to purchase more wind and solar power. In an interview, Mr. Peevey said rigid adherence to that policy might have gone too far, particularly in light of state decisions to shut down two big sources of round-the-clock power, the San Onofre nuclear power plant in 2013 and the last remaining nuclear plant in the state, Diablo Canyon, after 2025. “It worked well until these last few years, apparently,” Mr. Peevey said. He added that he worried the state didn’t reserve enough round-the-clock power generation “during this rush to renewables.”



Photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash