The LA Times reports on a phenomena that doesn’t often get discussed by politicians and environmental activists who seek billions of investments into “green energy.” Every wind mill, and every solar panel, in America has to be backed up by a more reliable form of energy, usually coal or gas.
The Delta Energy Center, a power plant about an hour outside San Francisco, was roaring at nearly full bore one day last month, its four gas and steam turbines churning out 880 megawatts of electricity to the California grid.
On the horizon, across an industrial shipping channel on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, scores of wind turbines stood dead still. The air was too calm to turn their blades — or many others across the state that day. Wind provided just 33 megawatts of power statewide in the midafternoon, less than 1% of the potential from wind farms capable of producing 4,000 megawatts of electricity.
As is true on many days in California when multibillion-dollar investments in wind and solar energy plants are thwarted by the weather, the void was filled by gas-fired plants like the Delta Energy Center.
This is particularly troubling for Californias as the state has a mandate for green energy. In order to fulfill that mandate, energy companies are being forced to build expensive new wind and solar farms. But, in addition to those big investments, they must also build more traditional fossil fuel plants to provide the steady supply of energy the wind and solar farms can’t.
One of the hidden costs of solar and wind power — and a problem the state is not yet prepared to meet — is that wind and solar energy must be backed up by other sources, typically gas-fired generators. As more solar and wind energy generators come online, fulfilling a legal mandate to produce one-third of California’s electricity by 2020, the demand will rise for more backup power from fossil fuel plants.
This something akin to buying a bicycle as a “green” way to get to work, and then buying a pickup truck to put that bicycle in so you can get to work on time.
Maybe one day we’ll be able to get reliable and cost-effective energy from solar panels and wind power. But that day is not today, or tomorrow or any day in the foreseeable future. So why not just build what we know does work, and stop wasting money on what doesn’t?