In summary

Electric-only advocates assume that renewable energy alone can power California; instead, we may pay the price with blackouts.

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By Lance Christensen, Special to CalMatters

Lance Christensen is the vice president of government affairs at the California Policy Center.

First, it was fossil fueled power plants. Then it was emissions-free nuclear power. Now they’re aiming for natural gas stoves and appliances.

Cities across California are enacting bans or restrictions on natural gas. Last year, the state advanced a plan that says every new home needs to be “electric-ready,” which is regulator code for “we can’t ban natural gas, so we’ll just mandate that you install something else to make it cost prohibitive.”

All of this assumes that renewable energy alone can power a modern industrial economy. Yet those advocating for this Neverland are rarely held to account for the physical limitations and economic costs of their solutions. Instead, Californians pay the price with blackouts and some of the highest electricity prices in the country.

Unlike natural gas or nuclear power, renewables are dependent on the weather, and electrons can’t be generated when families need them most. 

Researchers from UCLA found that “daily peaks in gas use don’t coincide with the times that renewable energy sources are producing the most energy.” When people need to use their stoves, water heaters and air conditioners, renewables can’t power them.

Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged this two years ago when the lights literally went out for millions of Californians. Newsom said there were “gaps” in reliability when families and businesses needed energy the most, even as he bizarrely committed to continuing shutting down fossil fuel power plants that are needed to fill those gaps.

The idea that we can switch more than 11 million natural gas customers in California to electricity without causing blackouts isn’t backed by physics.

But it’s not just gas stoves and household appliances. This fantasy includes converting all passenger cars and trucks in California to run on electricity – a plan that would further raise energy demand by as much as 25%.

California is the largest importer of electricity of any state and can’t seem to keep the lights on as it is. Yet policymakers are pushing us headlong into another energy crisis by pretending the wind and sunshine will save us.

Then there’s the sheer cost of replacing much of our energy infrastructure. The same researchers at UCLA who raised concerns about how well renewables can replace gas also said that “gas is four to six times cheaper than electricity.” So even if we could meet this enormous new demand for electricity, efforts to ban gas stoves and water heaters would cause monthly energy bills in California to skyrocket.

Ask anyone living paycheck to paycheck, this is a scary thing to consider especially when recognizing the average consumer in California already pays two to three times more for electricity than the national average. And the drought drains the state’s ability to produce electricity when there is no water to run through our hydroelectric dams.

The growing trend of “environmental justice” is supposed to give low-income families and disadvantaged communities a bigger role in decision-making, but ends up stripping resources from them. Attempts to ban natural gas, as one columnist recently wrote, “are, in fact, regressive energy taxes that will hurt low- and middle-income consumers and in doing so, exacerbate California’s poverty problem.”

Electric-only advocates ignore basic economics and are now veering us into an idiosyncratic terrain, suggesting that your gas stove – an appliance that homeowners have used safely for decades – is secretly spreading cancer and asthma. Even the New York Times suggested such claims are overblown.

Last year, California Assemblymember Jim Patterson, vice-chair of the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Energy, rang the alarm bells. “We cannot keep the lights on without additional natural gas,” Patterson said, “and the state’s been forced to go out and find it in an emergency situation.”

Patterson is right. But will anyone listen?

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