Tue, May

Can California Afford the High Cost of Green Warriors?


CLIMATE POLITICS--I have a saying: it attempts to describe a part of the human condition, that seemingly human beings always know how to screw things up royally, it goes like this: there is no problem too great or too small that can’t be made worse by the proper application of the human mind.

So, what have those do-gooders in Sacramento been thinking up to over the last year and a half? Why make evidenced-based decisions when you can just make laws by fiat? Well, back in September of 2018 our former Governor Brown signed SB-100, blessing the legislative effort to make California’s utilities reliant upon renewable energy resources and zero-carbon resources. 

This law, which calls for 44% of our electric energy to be from renewable energy in 2024, by 2030 60%, and 100 percent carbon-free power by 2045. This makes California the largest jurisdiction to legally commit to clean energy and a thousand brownouts. Not to be outdone by the legislature Brown also announced an executive order directing California to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 and to be net greenhouse gas negative, forever-after.

While these are worthy goals, whether you believe climate change is our biggest threat or a large pile of hokum. The first problem with “clean” energy is that it takes a lot of “dirty” energy to make green energy. We cannot produce Windmills, Solar Panels, Biomass, Geothermal, Hydropower in the absence of carbon-based fuels. Everything you use today was either mined or farmed. Lithium and Cobalt are mined and significant components of electric cars batteries, and other electronic battery devices.

While supplies of Lithium are today abundant, Cobalt is not. Cobalt mainly comes from the Congo a region famous for instability and armed conflicts. Question abound whether the whole Electric Vehicle (EV) will be derailed by lack of supply of critical minerals by 2050.

Then there is the question relevant to California and Los Angeles, whether the electric grid will hold up under all the charging EVs. In Los Angeles, the Department of Water Power (DWP) is behind by about $4-Billion in modernizing our electric grid.  Southern California Edison, has reported that it needs to spend $12-Billion to upgrade its portion of the network, which still might be endangered from squirrels and wildfire. It is said that $12-Trillion will be needed nationally to modernize and harden the electrical grid.

While we are being green-warriors for the environment, the costs, not just in dollars but to the biosphere of finding the copper, cobalt, lithium, nickel, and manganese for our carbon neutral future is enormous.

Large mines are destructive to the environment, displace indigenous populations, use vast amounts of precious water resources, and cause deforestation, resulting in damage to wildlife and fauna. Mining is an inherently invasive process that can cause damage to a landscape in an area much larger than the mining site itself.

The effects of this damage can continue years after a mine has shut down. These include additional greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere, releases of radiation from hard rock and rare earths (REE), the devastation and death of plants, microbes, and erosion of their land and habitat, pollution of waterways from toxic tailings, and chemicals from mining operations leaching into the groundwater.

I am afraid that our poster boy for Zero Emissions -Elon Musk has sold us a whole lot of hopium.

A recent study out of Germany suggests that EVs, when added in the mining and how the power is generated, are dirty than diesel vehicles. “Considering Germany’s current energy mix and the amount of energy used in battery production, the CO2 emissions of battery-electric vehicles are, in the best case, slightly higher than those of a diesel engine, and are otherwise much higher. This has been confirmed by a new study by Christoph Buchal, professor of physics at the University of Cologne; Hans-Dieter Karl, long-standing IFO energy expert; and Hans-Werner Sinn, former IFO President, and Professor Emeritus at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München.2”. This might mean EVs in California create more pollution than in Germany due to the fact that Germany is one of the world’s leaders in solar panel installation.

Extremely disconcerting and a rapidly approaching deadline, the City of Los Angeles will no longer be modernizing its three coastal power plants the Scattergood, Haynes and Harbor gas plants due to Sacramento’s orders. Natural gas which is a much cleaner burning fuel than oil or coal accounted for 31% of the city’s power supply in 2017, with much of that generation coming from Scattergood, Haynes, and Harbor. DWP managers had argued in recent months that those three facilities, in particular, are critical to keeping the lights on for the city’s 4 million residents, especially on hot summer days when electrical demand is highest and during outages elsewhere on the power grid. 

Los Angeles is under State orders to shut all ten gas-fired generators at these plants in the coming years because they use ocean water for cooling, which can harm marine life. This means in the opinion of the author that Rock Cod, Sanddabs, and other fish are more important to the State than the possible survival of its taxpayers in the heatwaves that are sure to come

DWP officials had said they weren’t sure clean technologies like batteries would be cheap or effective enough to replace the gas plants before the state’s deadlines, in 2024 for Scattergood and 2029 for Harbor and Haynes.  “Businesses are concerned about these impacts to our bottom line, and we’re concerned that there was no ratepayer advocate report or analysis done on this,” Kendal Asuncion (a public policy manager for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce) said at Tuesday’s board meeting. 

Note that the State has ordered all gas-fired power plants to be closed by 2029.[2] Ten Short years. There is no certainty that clean energy sources will be ready or adequate to fill the loss of these megawatts to power our city. 

California is casting off fossil fuels to become an experiment for something that doesn’t exist: a clean energy fully electrified state of 46 million people by 2045 without harmful carbon emissions. Laws are in place requiring a rush of energy from renewable sources such as the sun and wind and calling for millions of electric cars that will need charging, changes that will and are taxing a system that is already, stressed, fragile, unstable, and increasingly vulnerable. 

These stakes are incredibly high for all residents should the transition to clean-energy fail, and perhaps could be catastrophic.

(Eliot Cohen is President of Homeowners of Encino, Chair of the Encino Neighborhood Council Planning and Land Use Committee and Managing Partner of a Private Equity Firm.)


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