- - Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The news that people living in California are being subjected to rolling blackouts has the rest of the country shaking its collective heads. That a state once known as the center of technological innovation cannot provide enough power for its citizens when the weather gets too warm seems incredible. How did this happen? And, more importantly, how can it be fixed?

By all accounts, California has embarked on its own version of the Green New Deal, the scheme cooked up by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that seeks to eliminate fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power. As a result, many fossil-fuel-fired power plants have been taken offline, as the CO2 they emit is considered to cause climate change. The fossil fuel plants are being replaced by solar and wind power since these forms of electricity production do not emit CO2 and therefore do not cause climate change.

However, it looks like California has little extra power supply, which means that if a heat wave happens, those in charge of the power grid must turn off the electricity for homes and businesses. The blackouts are causing hardships for people who rely on air conditioning to keep cool. They are a threat to people who rely on medical devices, such as respirators, to keep alive.

How, then, can the power blackout problem in California be fixed and at the same time allow its political class to continue to fight climate change?

One idea is to start building nuclear power plants. Nuclear does not cause any amount of greenhouse gasses. Modern nuclear power plants are far safer than the one that melted down at Three Mile Island more than 40 years ago. It would therefore seem that building some nuclear power plants, away from California’s geological fault lines, would be a solution to the problem of power blackouts.

However, the task of getting California’s political class to approve of nuclear power may be something akin to establishing peace in the Middle East. Opposition to nuclear power has become a religion to the people who now rule California.

Building plants outfitted with carbon capture technology could provide more power to California while avoiding greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of spewing CO2 into the atmosphere, these power plants capture the greenhouse gas and store it. The CO2 then can be sold to businesses as raw material for carbon fiber tubes, concrete, biofuel and even food.

A company called Net Power is testing such a power plant in La Porte, Texas, with considerable success. Net Power is planning to build utility-scale carbon capture power plants by 2022. The company would surely be pleased to sell to California’s power providers all the electrical power plants they can buy.

But then we run into another tenet of the environmentally woke who run California. If nuclear power is bad, the oil and gas companies are far worse. The officeholders in Sacramento would view dealing with oil and gas companies in the same way that a devout Christian might feel about dealing with Satan and his demonic minions.

The self-destructive attitude exhibited in California is puzzling, especially from Texas. Despite the image of the Lone Star State as the center of the fossil fuel industry, it has not ignored renewable energy. Texas, not California, is the biggest generator of wind power. Wind farms dot the plains of northern and western Texas, providing energy to the cities of Dallas and San Antonio to the east. Texas utility companies have started to dabble in solar energy.

The difference is that the people in charge of providing electricity to Texas residents are not environmental zealots. They are hardheaded businesspeople who know that the way to avoid rolling blackouts is not to admonish people to turn up their thermostats. Texas avoids rolling backouts by having enough power, even on hot, summer days, by and large from plants burning relatively clean natural gas as well as renewables. Texas gets hot in the summer, yet its citizens enjoy adequate power to keep the lights and air conditioners on. California could learn a thing or two from Texas.

• Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration titled “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as The Moon, Mars and Beyond.” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner. 

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