Green Catch-23 Hurts Hydro Power

APRIL 19, 2011


If a Catch-22 is a choice between two equally undesirable alternatives, California’s mandate to purchase green power must be one more than a Catch-22 – it must be a Catch-23.

This is because California’s new green-power law, mandating 33 percent renewable electricity generation by 2020, will soon present a situation of a choice between three undesirable alternatives:

1) Having to buy more expensive wind power as required by law;

2) Having to give away cheap and clean hydropower from overflowing reservoirs this year;

3) Having to avoid spilling water from overcapacity dams in order not to harm fish by putting too much dissolved gas into downstream rivers.

Willis Eschenbach, a climate law-watcher, calls this situation being “between wind and water,” a variation of the phrase, “between a rock and a hard place.”

But in reality the choices being presented to hydropower managers and California’s Independent System Operator, which runs the power grid, are threefold: among wind, water and fish.

The irony is that hydropower is as clean, and green, as wind or solar power. But in California, hydropower does not count as renewable power under the new green-power law that begins in 2012.

Bonneville May Cut Switch on Wind Power

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), a federal government agency in the Pacific Northwest, apparently doesn’t have California’s Catch-23 dilemma.  Because the BPA is a federal entity, it is immune to the policies of state green-power laws. Unlike California, the BPA has told wind-farm operators that they may have to shut down periodically to free up capacity in the electrical grid for hydropower generated by the large snowpack and full reservoirs this year.

Most of the wind power being generated in other states is shipped to California to meet its new increased 33 percent energy portfolio standard for renewable power.  So if Bonneville has to cut off wind power from the grid in the Pacific Northwest from being transmitted to California, will taxpayers be stuck with the bill anyway?

In other words, will California electricity ratepayers end up having to pay more than double the price for electricity from both hydroelectric plants and wind farms?  If so, look for another energy crisis, as a pricing bubble may appear seemingly out of nowhere in California as a result of the state’s green power policies. Only this time, there won’t be an Enron around to blame.

Has CA’s Drought Been Wind Driven?

Environmentalists lost their effort to get a federal court to block water shipments through the State Water Project and Federal Central Valley Project purportedly to protect the smelt fish. After that, is it any wonder that the Obama Administration, operating through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWLS), has proposed to list the longfin smelt fish as endangered?

Strangely, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied federal protection for the longfin smelt in April 2009. Have all the efforts to block water shipments to farms and cities in California, creating an “adjudicated drought,” been motivated by trying to curtail hydropower from competing with wind and solar power?

California now has a perverse incentive system to embargo the cheapest, cleanest source of energy — hydropower — so that wind developers can reap “windfalls” in over-market priced wind power.

California’s energy system is getting so Byzantine that it may be creating unintended opportunities to game the system dressed up as a Hollywood environmental lawsuit, a la Erin Brockovich.



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  1. Rogue Elephant
    Rogue Elephant 19 April, 2011, 09:53

    You know what they say, “When in Byzantium…” It is clearly time to pile more foolish mandates upon another. Here’s one: We need an initiative that will require the power companies to purchase excess electricity from home solar systems, at spot rates. Why shouldn’t ratepayers get in on the game?

    Reply this comment
  2. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 19 April, 2011, 12:44

    Dear Mr. Elephant:
    The public utilities do not allow homeowner’s solar systems to be oversized and thus generate excess power that they could reap a windfall in reverse metering from. But it does allow commercial wind and solar farm developers to reap a profit, with huge subsidies to boot. Of course you could possibly game this system. Buy an overly large home. Have a solar system put on the roof sized to the number of rooms in the house. Only live in half or two thirds of the rooms. An instant money maker.

    Reply this comment
  3. EastBayLarry
    EastBayLarry 20 April, 2011, 06:18

    LOL Wayne, I hope you don’t see that as a path to profits! Even an undersized house with an oversized solar array won’t gain a net profit due to the very high price of the necessary solar array.

    This is the whole folly of solar power.

    Reply this comment

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Jerry BrownsmeltWayne Lusvardiwind power

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