Science

Solar and Wind Power Struggle as California Faces Blackouts

The state's electricity grid operators warned in 2019 that power shortages might become increasingly common when heat waves hit in the coming years.

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Rolling electric power blackouts afflicted roughly 2 million California residents in August as a heat wave gripped the Golden State. At the center of the problem is a state policy requiring that 33 percent of California's electricity come from renewable sources such as solar and wind power, rising to a goal of 60 percent by 2030. Yet data showed that power demand peaks just before the sun begins to go down, when overheated people turn up their air conditioning in the late afternoon. Meanwhile, the power output from California's wind farms in August was erratic.

Until this summer, California utilities and grid operators were able to purchase extra electricity from other states. But the August heat wave stretched from Texas to Oregon, so there was little to no surplus energy available. According to the San Jose Mercury News, California electricity grid operators warned in September 2019 that power shortages might become increasingly common when heat waves hit in the coming years.

California still has some natural gas power plants that can be ramped up to supply energy when renewable supplies fail. But "some folks in the environmental community want to shut down all the gas plants," Jan Smutny-Jones, CEO of the Independent Energy Producers Association, a trade association representing solar, wind, geothermal, and gas power plants, told The Mercury News in August. "That would be a disaster. Last night 60 percent of the power in [the California Independent System Operator electricity network] was being produced by those gas plants. They are your insurance policy to get through heat waves."

Union of Concerned Scientists analyst Mark Specht, by contrast, told NPR that "the solution is definitely not more natural gas plants. Really, if anything, this is an indication that California should speed up its investments in clean energy and energy storage."

An important fact is missing from this debate: California has been bringing the hammer down on a huge source of safe, reliable, always-on, non-carbon-dioxide-emitting electricity: nuclear power. In 2013, state regulators forced the closing of the San Onofre nuclear power plant, which supplied electricity to 1.4 million households. By 2025, California regulators plan to close the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, which can supply electricity to 3 million households.

The problem of climate change, along with the blackouts resulting from the vagaries of wind and solar power, suggests that California should not only keep its nuclear power plants running but also build more innovative reactors designed to flexibly back up variable renewable electricity generation.

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  1. Funny how the nationals most expensive energy is also the most unreliable… It was the miracle energy only held hostage by those monopolistic oil-companies. I suppose in CA the oil-companies are causing an ‘energy crisis’ too as well in E.U.

    Idiocy knows no boundaries in the Democratic Party.

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    2. Now do the Republican Party.

      1. Now do an intelligent person.

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  2. I’m shocked, shocked I say.

    1. Well, maybe if the power comes back on.

  3. California is like looking at America’s future.

    1. Or the USSR’s past?

      1. No way, Cali’s Top Men are so much brighter than the old apparatchiks! Sure it hasn’t worked before, but this time they’re going to get it right by golly! People just aren’t cooperating because they don’t know what’s good for them when their betters tell them!

        1. Oh well I didn’t realize we had Cali’s TOP men on it. That makes me feel much better about it.

          1. NOT Top Men, you fascist troglodyte! Cali leaders are women, womyn, non-binary genderites, and those of indeterminate and fluid sex.

        2. It will never succeed as long as the wreckers and kulaks are free.

        3. They’d be brighter still if they were set on fire. Just an observation.

  4. At the 1900(?) Paris World’s Fair there was an inventor who made a solar steam generator. His invention was so revolutionary that is lead to a massive drop in coal prices (the primary source at the time). Now that coal was so cheap, solar steam became worthless since it was too expensive. The other problem with solar is that it is becoming so cheap to produce that there will only be money in the storage end, and it may not be possible to create the storage necessary to meet energy needs.

    1. There’s a dot that isn’t connected between “there will … be money in the storage end” and “it may not be possible to creat the storage necessary”.

      Are you saying there won’t be enough money, or that there is a technical or regulatory hurdle to building storage, or ???

      1. First off, solar isn’t super cheap. It’s barely breaking even before tax breaks. You don’t need fuel, but you do need a lot of investment, land, and maintenance for a very low generating capacity. There’s a reason that rooftop solar is still considered a poor investment. In the end, you can hype and propagandize all you want, but you can only lie so far about costs. If solar was as good as they said, everyone involved would be making out like bandits instead of defaulting on loans or scraping by.

        Then, storage an insurmountable technical hurdle. You need at absolute minimum, 16 hours of storage to go to a solar-only system. As winds still blow at night (but are slower than daytime), the required storage is smaller in a mixed system. Storage on that scale currently only exists in hydroelectric via pumped storage. However, we would need ten times the current number of hydroelectric dams to even get close, and there aren’t enough rivers in the country. Nowhere close. Large scale batteries don’t exist on the levels we are talking about.

        We are multiple orders of magnitude away from solving the storage problem.

        1. What you wrote is accurate, but you will have a hard time convincing people who think the production cost of renewable energy is zero because the wind and sun are free.

        2. Good points, but do not forget decommissioning costs which will be huge. All this stuff has a shelf life and not all of it is easily reused or cheaply reused. For example think about the megatons of batteries that will be used to smooth over intermittent output and then think about the fact they can only be recycled a finite number of times and then it’s recycle time.

          Ditto for the turbines, the blades, the solar panels and much more.

      2. Yeah I’ll admit, I “stole underpants” and then “profit”.
        I forgot step 2).

    2. “The other problem with solar is that it is becoming so cheap to produce….’

      Yes, the age-old business problem of drastically reducing costs.

    3. The other problem with solar is that it is becoming so cheap to produce that there will only be money in the storage end, and it may not be possible to create the storage necessary to meet energy needs.

      There already exists a dense, light, stable, and abundant storage medium; several, actually. The problem is, they’re carbon-based.

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  7. And yet these idiots call others science deniers – – – – – – – – – –

    1. Well in the 90’s some grad student published a paper saying this would all work. Therefore, anyone who denies it is a science denier.

      1. We no longer need grad students to conduct studies. Twelve-year-old middle school students can generate scientific papers based on Wikipedia that can be used for public policy decisions.

        1. Who needs 12 year-olds with wikipedia? California has based policy (straw bans) on an estimated number from a school science fair project done by a nine year old.

  8. I’m not really seeing a problem here. So Californians don’t have as much cheap electricity as they’d like to have. Nobody cares, everybody hates Californians. And, quite obviously, nobody hates Californians as much as the government of California. I mean, look at the laws they pass, the policies they adopt, the taxes and the regulations they impose – it’s pretty clear that the government of California intends to punish Californians for being Californians and wishes they’d all leave.

    1. Not only that. Most Californians seem to hate other Californians. And some seem to hate themselves.

      Even if the suffering is not intentional, I am sure they think it is justified.

      1. Self-loathing Californians afflicted with Stockholm Syndrome and depression.

        No amount of Nouveau Age meditation and coconut milk can fix stupid.

    2. The problem here is that California is basically on the Green New Deal.

      So this is what’s coming for us, without the natural gas backup or the legacy nukes or the neighboring states from which to purchase excess power.

      And of course Biden and the politicians don’t have the sense to understand the issues. Something must be done, and this is something.

    3. Californians don’t have any cheap electricity (rates in TX are 40% of what rates in CA are, not counting utility taxes). We also don’t have as much expensive electricity as we need, hence the brownouts/rolling blackouts.

      Apparently in addition to the unreliable nature of the “green” power supply, the natgas backup systems have some technical issue that makes them not work well in hot weather. Also, the time during which demand tends to overwhelm supply is during hot weather because of increased use of home HVAC systems (probably moreso when they’ve got everyone locked down in their homes for the entire summer instead of allowing them to congregate in larger climate controlled areas or places like the beach where weather is milder and it’s possible to cool off by getting into the ocean.

  9. One thing probably not noticed by many who live outside of CA is the energy surcharge for creating your own electricity which kicks in after your solar or wind installation “matures.” A friend of ours who lives in Nor Cal who went “whole-hog” into solar back in 2000 or so received a bill from PG@E for six dollars this month. Added on to the bill was a “surcharge” (otherwise known as a tax?) for three-hundred and some-odd dollars. Apparently this is supposed to help pay the bills for other folks who don’t have solar, or some such nonsense.

    1. Out of curiosity how do they “know” he’s generating his own electricity? Is it because he couldn’t possibly consume “only” $6 worth of electricity or does it have to do with some tax deduction he claimed?

      1. Installing a solar system on a home will require a permit. In addition, the installation may have been partly subsidized by the State, I am not sure. However, surcharges for “low usage” have been around since the early 2000’s. So perhaps that is the mechanism they use.

        When I investigated installing solar, the “payback time” was about 20 years for a home in an area with lots of sun and the right roof area and angle. Now, after twenty years, the surcharges kick in. Which means, of course, that the solar installation ends up costing a lot more than the original amount. It reminds of me a “bait and switch:” lure the unsuspected by promising lower costs, and then, when they reach that goal, pull the rug out.

        1. and in California you can only build off solar if you can prove it would be a financial hardship to connect to PG$E. that is a high burden to show and expense to prove as well. note when you install solar you still have to connect to the local power and unless you have a huge battery back up when the power goes out your solar is useless as well.

  10. Ballpark per-person lifetime production of nuclear waste if all of an individual’s energy was produced by currently available closed-loop sodium fast reactors (or similar) is ~3.5 kg. That’s about the volume of a 12-oz beverage can.

    Further advances in reprocessing for power generation promise to consume about 60% of this unspent material, with almost all of the remainder being stable depleted uranium which could be safely stored, or permanently returned to uranium mine sites without risk to the environment. Waste from legacy reactors can also be reprocessed and consumed, eventually reducing the world’s stored waste to a very small volume. Nuclear waste is radioactive precisely because it still contains energy–we just need to complete development of techniques to extract it.

    To plow money into feel-good power generation methods like wind and solar is folly because these inadequate sources consume lots of fossil fuel in their raw input materials extraction, refinement and manufacturing. Damaged panels contribute to toxic landfill waste. Alongside construction of *proven* renewable plant types like hydroelectric and geothermal, we should immediately begin construction of large numbers of new efficient nuclear reactors and pursue the goal of developing plants to squeeze every last joule from our fuel.

    I love solar for low-energy off-grid energy but to pretend panels and windmills are the future of mass power production is propaganda.

    1. Solar: It’s great for camping.

      1. It’s not even very good for that.

        I’ve spent hours in front of fires that both kept me warm and cooked my food that required me to carry nothing more than a flint and steel. AFAICT, no solar source (outside *THE* solar source) even remotely comes close to doing similar (especially in the dark).

        1. I use a tiny little 7×9 inch solar panel to power a couple strands of LED glow lights attached to my EZ-Up canopy. They turn on automatically at dusk and stay on for about 6 hours. So, off-grid, we’ve got nice light over the picnic area for evening eating.

          Keeps the racoons away until we go to bed at least.

          1. LED lighting is your benefactor not solar. I can run an LED lamp on D-cell batteries for a week straight.

          2. Keeps the racoons away until we go to bed at least.

            ^What you say when you’re dumber than the racoons.

            Hint: You (and likely the couple dozen other people glamping around you) are the reason the racoons don’t come for your food. Leave the lights on and go to bed. See if the raccons care about the light.

            Also, you’ll notice I didn’t say shit about the firelight. It’s nice, but I’m fine with virtually any ambient light. Again, the LEDs are little comfort when it’s 10 below and drizzling or my food is raw.

    2. I just wonder where all the electricity to power electric cars is supposed to come from.

      1. Unicorn farts, I believe. They will power the windmills.

  11. In case anyone had any doubts that all this Covid restrictions crap was completely arbitrary, I flew from Albuquerque to Chicago yesterday. It was very important that we stay six feet apart in the jetway. And then they put people in every single seat. My social distance for the whole flight was about 6mm.

    And then they deplaned by row, so we wouldn’t be too close together in the aisles.

    I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried. And if I did, no one would believe it.

    1. Sitting on a plane is a form of protest.

      1. Ok, I laughed. That must be what was keeping us safe. 😀

        1. You had no idea you were on a BLM plane.

    2. Did you have to wear a mask the entire trip?
      How about if you kept asking for water?

    3. I made a similar observation when flying to Key West last month. My friend whose husband is a pilot agreed that some of it was silly, but pointed out that the air filtration system on the plane is a big factor in the reasoning behind why it is ok to have a full plane. I am sure more studies are being done, but supposedly very few people have spread covid on planes.

  12. Things that do not work and are not efficient can be made to work efficiently by virtue of a government mandate, and pretending.

    1. Also, Democracy!

    2. Just say “science”. It’s bound to work.

  13. so i may need an education here or the author left out the REASON 4 the blackouts,where the blackouts chosen by the owners of the grid,as to not start more fires??? Down power lines have been the cause of major fires in the past..the author seems to have an agenda then wraps his story around the false narrative.

    1. I thought renewable energy was cleaner and wouldn’t corrode those pesky deteriorating power lines so fast?

    2. California power outages are primarily caused by intentional shutdown of the grid or by insufficient supply. Intentional shutdowns are a rational reaction to liability for fires caused by downed power lines. Supply problems are caused by relying too much on uncontrollable sources that can’t be augmented with imports from other states.

      1. Include the fact that the government mandated certain spending, leaving insufficient funds for line maintenance. Because both the revenue and the profit level of the utilities are regulated by the same politicians who “blame” them for all the obvious consequences of the regulations. This is classic fascism on display.

        1. Don’t forget environmentalists. They have been resisting efforts by the utilities to remove vegetation beyond what the regulations require.

    3. There are two kinds of planned power outages. The ones here are because there simply isn’t enough power being generated to meet demand; your garden variety government fuckup. Nothing to see, move along.

      The “safety” ones are the PSPS, Public Safety Power Shutdown, where high winds and low humidity bring the “possibility” of downing power lines or swinging them into nearby dry trees and starting a fire. This is the alleged culprit behind the Camp Fire of a couple years ago, which destroyed the entire town of Paradise and killed 85 people.

      I have read that there was so much rooftop solar installed that PG&E’s budget for buying that power was blown. They asked the PUC for permission to raise rates to pay for this unexpected demand and were told no, cut expenses, and that is why they cut back on trimming trees near power lines, replacing old lines, etc. No certainty this is true, but the PUC has a tight grip on PG&E and is well known as a retirement sinecure for politicians who get termed out of state office and can’t make the grade at federal office.

      PG&E has also been in bankruptcy several times, may still be, all over incompetence which probably starts at the PUC and infects PG&E too. So they are both scared to death and just don’t care; their attitude seems to be, eh, what’s the worst that could happen, we declare bankruptcy again?

      1. Should have saved the link, but I read similar; money spent converting to solar and wind cuts maintenance budgets, but also (under mandate to be 50% ‘sustainable’) shutting down nat-gas plants means less reliability.
        It was moonbeam who pulled ‘50% by X-date’ out of his ass – his head is still there.
        So we end up with two garden-variety government fuckups, but one is a bit more complicated than the other.

      2. California’s independent system operator has to legally balance their system load with available resources, plus they’re legally required to carry reserves in case something unplanned happens. If they can’t maintain the balance, they’re required to drop load to get back in balance, because if the imbalance is bad enough they can take out the whole western US. California had to have rolling blackouts to be in legal compliance, and it was due to resource deficiency not related to fires.

    4. Read the article. CA blackouts this year were not the result of fires but were the fully-anticipated result of out-of-state power being unavailable during peak air-conditioning season. California’s “green dreams” survive only because they can sponge off the states around them who have not yet handicapped themselves.

      1. Some local blackouts in certain parts of the state were due to utility companies shutting down transmission lines in certain wind/heat conditions. This was the result the utilities being unable to properly clear vegetation from around some lines due to opposition from local governments and activists and of the established precedent that the State would put liability for any resulting fires on the utility companies that they were also prohibiting from taking the kinds of precautions which would be done in most other places.

        Most of the rolling blackouts/brownouts were due to lack of aupply at times of high demand, though.

  14. California is again showing the way. We must accept hardship and privation. Humans (especially Those People) are a tragic blight on the planet. The high priests of CA government are bringing us the Word from Mother Earth, and we must be joyful in our suffering.

    1. Welcome to the Hotel California.

      You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.

      1. You can leave but they want to still tax you.

        1. Maybe we should start stabbing with our steely knives.

          (Don Henley’s gonna get all pissy (pissier) if we don’t stop culturally appropriating him).

          1. Why? Is he ‘one of those’?

      2. As they sing “we are all just prisoners here of our own device.”

    2. As the state literally burns to cinders. I forget, if the bank burns down, do you still have all that debt to pay back?

  15. F
    u
    c
    k

    C
    a
    l
    i
    f
    o
    r
    n
    i
    a

    1. Not for all the money in the world would I consider doing that.

      1. Never stick your dick in crazy.

  16. “power shortages might become increasingly common”

    Even if true, that’s a small price to pay. After all, the Koch / Reason open borders agenda will eventually turn all 50 states into California. Specifically we want every state to have the following characteristics of CA:
    (1) high degree of racial diversity,
    (2) high degree of economic inequality, and
    (3) single party Democratic control.

    #OpenBordersWillFixEverything

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  17. “Solar and Wind Power Struggle as California Faces Blackouts”

    This is a lie. Solar and Wind are functioning exactly as should be expected.

    1. You are wrong. They are NOT functioning as expected when you factor in emotional green new deal thinking.

      1. They are functioning as I expected: Poorly.

  18. You know, the more I hear about this California place the more I don’t care for it

  19. If C02 emitted by electric generation is that big of a problem, even considering all it’s drawbacks, nuclear is still the only answer.

    1. But hippies hate nuclear. And California is infested with them.

  20. Just shut down all the power to San Fransisco and Berkeley and redirect it elsewhere. Declare those cities “carbon free” and only direct power there that comes from local wind and solar. Local meaning generated within fifty miles.

    That should turn the situation around quickly enough.

    1. San Fran is contributing to the overload on the power grid: No more natural gas in homes as of next year.

  21. Watching the slow motion destruction speed up is entertaining. The government of California and its democrat enablers need to removed from power. They won’t until the pain gets worse but by then it may be too late.

    Don’t vote for democrats.

  22. horse/cart problem. we should want our power generation shifted to renewable sources, but we can’t get rid of legacy generation plants until we have sufficient capacity. (and even then, we probably should keep some for surge usage.) and, assuming CO2 is your motivation, you definitely do not close down existing nuclear plants. (which, is really the root of the problem in CA.)

    unfortunate that their poor choice with the nuclear plants predictably provides ammunition for the anti-solar twits.

    1. we should want our power generation shifted to renewable sources

      Why? If we’re just going to jump on the next bandwagon as it comes along, why do we care if the current bandwagon is going to coast on to the horizon or plunge off a cliff a couple miles down the road? As long as the bandwagons keep rolling along on schedule and/or according to our expectations, why do we care?

      1. so, your only argument is we should hate anything a lot of people think is a good idea? GFY.

        1. “a lot of people think is a good idea?”

          FIX — It seems “a lot” of Democrats think STEALING “is a good idea?” … and they have 1-Million excuses for it.

          There is ZERO excuses for government involvement to dictate what is a good or bad idea – short of some sick fetish with worshiping the Almighty GOV-GODS.

          Otherwise; it would just be a “good idea” like a million in a half other good ideas/products people utilize everyday on the FREE-MARKET…

          You can almost GUARANTEE it’s a rotten idea if it requires the FORCE of GOV-GUNS… As government THEFT of its own citizens labor is a rotten idea (slavery) from it’s very foundation.

          The party of slavery sure has a lot of excuses for slavery.

          1. got it….. you don’t actually have any rational argument, this is just something you associate with democrats and therefore hate reflexively….. come back when you learn to think for yourself.

            1. ^Exhibit #2; What ignorance-on-crack looks like.

        2. so, your only argument is we should hate anything a lot of people think is a good idea? GFY.

          Who are you talking to? I didn’t say hate. You did. Moreover, you didn’t say anything about good ideas, you just said people should want it. People want lots of things, even things that don’t make sense or aren’t good for them. Do you play a game of checkers based on how you want to move the pieces? When someone at the poker table tells you you can’t beat a straight flush with a dead man’s hand do you question why they hate you?

          You’re argument that people “should want” is so irrelevantly orthogonal that it’s like you don’t even know what you’re talking about.

  23. nothing like forcing energy companies to turn off power on windy days in an attempt to prove global warming is the cause of the power loss when in reality its the purposeful lack of infrastructure so that yes you can prove your point about climate change. they really do ant us to live like a third world nation we are easier to control that way. Plenty of nations on the African continent to show them how this is done.

    1. ^Well said; the whole purpose is, “we are easier to control that way”

  24. Funny that this article is tagged with “science”.

  25. I saw a TV commercial this weekend urging Californians to use less electricity, since solar power doesn’t work at night. Instead of using a more dependable and cost effective source.

    1. This thing called “civilization” is not working out as I had hoped.

  26. As we learned from the peaceful BLM protests this summer, equity/equality are much more important than science, even for scientists, who said protests mattered more than preventing Covid. So here we have it-the equity in this case will be the electricity needs of Californians can’t exceed those of the homeless population, so power outages will continue until the whole state is equal to that.

  27. And have they even considered the extra demand on the electrical system when they phase out the internal combustion engine, and have to charge up every car, truck, bus, van, etc. in California?

    1. You will have two choices

      Walk
      Bike

      I would add horses, but have heard they release methane

      1. There’s an old joke that to make a millionaire, you find a billionaire and talk him into buying a horse farm. Sounds exactly like the sort of thing CA would go for. I’m sure you could convince them that feeding the horses almonds or kale would minimize methane production.

  28. The Union of Concerned Scientists is not a union nor is it composed of scientists. They will accept anyone who pays their dues, including rather infamously a dog. About the only thing they are is “concerned” but even that seems to be limited to concern for their fundraising. They’ve jumped on every fact-free bandwagon that might panic people into sending them money.

    And unfortunately, the NPR reporter lapped it up unquestioningly.

    1. Have they turned The Doomsday Clock back now that Trump is no longer the President or are they waiting for the EC to make it official first?

      1. What are you talking about? CNN has already made it official.

        1. That’s what I’m saying. Is the clock as up to date as possible or is this an ‘Even a stopped Doomsday Clock is right twice a day’ situation?

  29. Who could have seen this coming, apart from everyone with a functioning brain? To be fair, though, wind and solar offer much more opportunity for graft and corruption.

  30. Hang your hat on Diablo canyon, really

    No they should not be quickly shutting down nukes, but Diablo canyon is not the one to get all wound up about

  31. Who needs electricity at night anyway? We are all supposed to be going to bed once the sun goes down according to our circadian rhythms, and yes I can see Kookifornia codifying this.

  32. This just shows that Biden’s government will need to spend a lot of money in CA to get the solar and wind industry up to the point where it should be. Biden could spend about a trillion dollars over then next five years to make a very large dent in the problem. Now to do that the Government should become a silent partner in the solar and wind power industry. Then the profits form that venture could then be used to expand that solar and wind industry in other states until that industry was supplying all the power that state needed and again becoming a silent partner then repeat the process until all states especially the mainland states were no longer dependent on oil, coal, natural gas or petroleum for powering anything. The whole point is to destroy the economic usefulness of any and all petroleum products. Then Just look at the megatons of carbon that would not be dumped into the atmosphere or water or on land. A great environmental improvement.

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  34. Stop fretting about California’s epic narcissistic stupidity and let them live in the bed they have made for themselves. If that means brown outs, lost industrial production, job losses and out-migration, so be it. It’s not our problem.

    1. “It’s not our problem.” — That would be true in a USA republic (That actually had law & order that upheld the Constitution) instead of the quasi-communist ([WE] mob-democracy) nation we find ourselves living in today.

  35. So how do you like your preview of the New Green Deal now…of course, the wealthy and the politically well connected are exempt from its hardships.

  36. Better still would be for California to reduce – drastically – the level of government interference in the production, distribution, sale and purchase of electrical power.
    EASY to understand. HARD to do in the present circumstances (in which the government has the power to interfere in the production, distribution, sale and purchase of electrical power).

    1. “Better still would be” … “to reduce” … “the level of government interference”….

      Ironically but predictably CA just voted to kick out the best “De-Regulator” this nation has ever had in the last Decade.

      HARD to do in the present circumstances = How to fix Stupid.

  37. California gets what it deserves. When your renewables are unreliable, their solution is to double down on the unreliable renewables. What do the say about repeated taking the same action but expecting a different outcome? Politicians need to stay away from engineering. They are out of their depth (which is about a millimeter deep.)

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