Millions of California families and businesses recently lost electricity during a record-breaking heat wave. The blackouts occurred because of bad decisions by California politicians to shut down many of the state’s reliable nuclear, natural gas, and coal-fired power plants, creating an over-dependence on unreliable energy sources such as wind and solar. As a result, the state was unable to generate enough electricity to meet demand when it was needed most.
California’s blackouts should be a reality check for the Minnesota lawmakers, utility executives, and wind and solar special interest groups who want to implement the same misguided policies in Minnesota. Their advocacy for adding wind, solar, and battery storage to our electric grid while shuttering reliable power plants is both stupid and dangerous.
Make no mistake, these blackouts were entirely the product of bad energy policy. Even Stephen Berberich, the president of California’s grid operating organization, had scathing criticism of the energy policies enacted by California lawmakers.
“The situation we are in could have been avoided," Berberich said. "There is inadequate power available during the net peak, the hours when the solar [generation] has left the system.”
Wind power played a part in the rolling blackouts, too.
“On Saturday night we were within an hour of being able to service the load without incident, Berberich said. "We lost a 400 MW [power station] unit and, the wind had been every good, but ran out. If the wind hadn’t run out on us, we would have been OK.”
Solar and wind apologists will undoubtedly claim the extreme heat caused the blackouts, and not the fact that wind and solar are unreliable, but this is wrong. It was hot in several southwestern states that weekend, but they didn’t experience rolling blackouts because they do not have energy mandates that leave the safety of their citizens at the mercy of the weather.
Many people still don’t realize wind and solar can only generate electricity when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. Fewer people understand that electricity must be consumed at the exact second it is generated and there is no messianic battery storage technology that can store enough electricity to power our lives.
This means a grid that is overly dependent upon wind and solar will quickly turn dangerous when electricity supplies are stretched to the limit during extreme weather events.
Minnesota almost experienced an energy shortfall during the Polar Vortex of 2019. The regional grid operator declared an emergency because it was too cold for wind turbines to operate and there was too much snow on many of Xcel Energy’s solar panels for them to work properly. Renewables were no help.
It is difficult to imagine a worse or more dangerous situation than an entire state without electricity or heat when it is negative 24 degrees Fahrenheit. If not for Minnesota’s reliable coal, nuclear, and natural gas power plants, the Polar Vortex of 2019 would have been that disaster.
If Minnesotans want to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions while still having reliable electricity, we must legalize new nuclear power plants, import more hydroelectricity from Canada, and continue to utilize natural gas. These technologies will provide the highest environmental return on investment while keeping the lights on.
If we continue to implement the same policies as California in Minnesota, it won’t be long before we get the same results.
Isaac Orr is a policy fellow specializing in energy and environmental policy at Center of the American Experiment.