It’s almost impossible to over-estimate how foolish California legislators can be, but perhaps even they can come to grips with the fact that forcing energy prices up in a state that’s strapped for cash and bleeding jobs is a very bad idea. All the more so since both wind and solar power are so horribly unreliable.
The efficiency of a power plant is measured by the metric called “capacity factor.” Capacity factor, expressed as a percentage, compares how much power a given plant generates to how much it could have generated, if operating at maximum load 365 days per year. So, if a 1,000 megawatt plant generates an average of 850 megawatts annually, it is said to be operating at an 85% capacity factor.
Most nuclear plants operate at capacity factors that exceed 90%. Coal plants usually operate at capacity factors around 60% to 80%. According to the Department of Energy, the average capacity factor for wind power plants is less than 20% and solar is even worse. This also makes the cost of these forms of energy even more expensive, for the vast majority of the time they aren’t generating electricity and they aren’t generating income.
Because wind and solar power are so unreliable, the amount of “rolling reserve” required to keep the grid stable increases as well. There is always the chance that a substantial portion of wind and solar could suddenly shut down, endangering the stability of the grid. (This actually happened in Texas in 2008 when over 1,000 MW of wind power shut down when the wind suddenly died). The Independent System Operators who run the grid are required to plan for such eventualities. The only way to do so is through increasing the percentage of rolling reserve in the form of power plants – usually gas-fired – that act as a back-up. This is another hidden cost of solar and wind power. The more we build solar and wind farms, the more we need to invest in other power plants that exist solely to paper over the failings of renewable energy providers.
There are forms of renewable energy that make sense, like using landfill gas for fuel, hydroelectric plants, waste-to-energy and certain forms of biomass that don’t compete with food crops. These are energy sources that can and do compete with fossil fuels in the free market. Wind and solar, on the other hand, are extensive boondoggles that require a steady-stream of taxpayer dollars to survive. California is just coming to grips with that fact, just as the rest of the nation will be forced to do the same, sooner than anyone realizes.
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