California Needs a New Energy Policy

Todd Royal
Todd Royal is an independent public policy consultant focusing on the geopolitical implications of energy based in Los Angeles, California.

A famous quote from Virgil’s Aenid 5.231, says, “They can, because they think they can,” comes to mind over the recent headline by the San Francisco Chronicle, “California slashes emissions, hits major greenhouse gas goals years early.” The California Air Resources Board (CARB) on June 11th released data showing California’s greenhouse gas emissions, “dropped 2.7 percent in 2016 (the latest year available) to 429.4 million metric tons.” But these lowered emissions numbers don’t tell the full story and have been disputed by the California Center for Jobs and the Economy in a report titled, “California’s Progress on Greenhouse Gas Reductions: A Review of the Numbers,” for including such factors as favorable weather and job destruction to demonstrate emission reduction.

In 2007 Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 32, The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, “which mandated the state cut greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020.” Governor Brown went further with the environmental mandate by signingSB 32 and AB 197, “requiring California to cut emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.” And if California continues believing, “Climate Change Matters More than Anything Else,” the problems could become catastrophic for California families and the poor that reduced emission numbers don’t take into account.

A new report from the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University that came out before the CARB numbers shows that despite increased costs and efforts by California we are cutting emissions at a lower pace. From 2007-2015, California cut greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 9% but the remainder of the United States (US) cut them by 10% or more in some cases without costly environmental laws and regulations. This means, “that on a per capita basis 41 states outperformed California on CO2 cuts.” Chapman’s Joel Kotkin expounded on this theme in a recent article for City Journal by stating:

“California is unlikely to achieve even its modest 2020 goals. California has accounted for barely 5% of the US’ GHG reductions. Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Indiana are about 5 times greater than California’s. Even Texas has been reducing its per-capita emissions more rapidly.”

Reliable, affordable energy isn’t what California is currently producing and is a leading factor why Governor Brown and the Legislature’s energy policy is undermining our blue collar sector in Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire. Millennials, Latinos and African American’s ability to purchase single-family homes are in serious peril over failed energy policies that produced higher home prices. This could be why a recent poll found 46% of residents in the Bay area are looking to leave California. Kerry Jackson of the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute also found between 2007-2016, 6 million people left the state, versus only 5 million moving in. Therefore, is it important emissions are lowered if most residents are unable to afford homes and need to leave the state?

Governor Brown is widely known for being an environmental leader, but his policies have not made an impact on worldwide climate change since California accounts for less than 1% of global GHG emissions. Considering the Paris Climate Agreement – California’s policies will have no discernable affect on GHG – and the Chapman study reported, “If California ceased to exist in 2030, global GHG emissions would still be at 99.54 percent of the Paris Agreement total.” The CARB report doesn’t address these issues.

Moreover, California’s economy is slowing, and our green policies seem to make energy affordability tougher for people to move forward economically. The more California attempts to alleviate GHG the worse they become. Undiscernibly, CARB, the Governor’s Office and Legislature don’t advocate for biomass use, nuclear energy that cuts emissions affordably, and hydroelectric doesn’t count towards renewable energy percentages. These are all forms of energy that cut emissions, but doesn’t lead to job destruction.

The CARB report also never takes into account that California imports about 1/3 of our electricity from other states. Our large energy-intensive tech firms: Apple, Google, Facebook outsource their GHG emissions to China and other less environmentally friendly US states to signal their lower carbon output, which also isn’t factored into CARB’s data. In reality California has exported pollution to other regions of the world and the US. The Chapman study also showed that in 2015 our international imports (energy was one of the largest) accounted for roughly 35% of the state’s total emissions. This origin of material and energy imports is also never figured into emission calculations.

These energy policies are also making income inequality continue rising by limiting single family homes being built over the belief that limiting home construction will lower global warming. Joel Kotkin again writes:

“The state’s determination to undo the primarily suburban, single-family development model in order to “save the planet” has succeeded both in raising prices well beyond national norms and creating a shortfall of some 3 million homes.”

California also has some of the highest electricity prices in the nation and climate change regulations like solar panels having to be installed on all new home construction are making cities like Los Angeles now have some of the highest poverty rates in the US. The tragedy about renewable energy is that it leads to increased emissions since it is an intermittent energy source that has to be backed up by dirty fossil fuels like coal.

Leading environmentalist Michael Shellenberger  has also expressed doubts about California’s renewable energy polices and if this leads to lowered emissions in four recent articles: “If Solar And Wind Are So Cheap, Why Are They Making Electricity So Expensive?,” “Solar And Wind Lock-In Fossil Fuels, And That Makes Saving The Climate Harder And More Expensive,” “If Solar Panels Are So Clean, Why Do They Produce So Much Toxic Waste?, and ”If Renewables Are So Great for the Environment, Why Do They Keep Destroying It?” Shellenberger has even gone so far as to opine California’s environmental polices are poverty inducing and racist in nature. The emission number may be lower, but the cost is steep and is destroying California society. However the answer to California’s GHG, inequality, and lack of middle class job growth (because of higher energy costs) is natural gas.

No form of energy at this time is cleaner, as scalable, or in such abundance as natural gas. A company outside of Houston – NET Power – has claimed it can burn natural gas for energy consumption while capturing 100% of carbon emissions. Even if that isn’t the case the United States is the only industrialized country in the world that met the Kyoto Protocol obligations by using more natural gas than coal according to Russell Gold’s bookThe Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World. What natural gas also provides is a way for renewable energy (mainly solar and wind) – which at this time doesn’t work on a scalable, or economically feasible way – to improve battery technology and overcome the intermittent weather issues that keep renewables from being an effective energy source. Natural gas is the best answer at this time to lead California’s new energy policy.

Unless rational dialogue is brought to California’s energy problems then increased racial and inequality divides will become worse. Poverty and overregulation seem to go hand-in-hand during this debate instead of looking at the facts of what works (natural gas, nuclear for lower emissions). A just California shouldn’t mainly tout lower emission numbers, but the policy conversation should begin with stable, low-cost energy as the first building block towards a sustainable society. When 200 civil rights leaders sue CARB, “on the basis that state policies are skewed against the poor and minorities,” it is time for California’s elected officials to sit down and have a serious discussion about energy policies in California that may produce lower emissions but doesn’t bring prosperity to all Californians.

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