Talking Points on California Blackouts

By Alex Epstein

California is experiencing blackouts because of "green" policies that reward or mandate unreliable electricity from solar and wind and punish or outlaw reliable electricity from nuclear, natural gas, coal, or hydro. We need to understand and apply this lesson this election.

Quick Summary

  1. Fact: electricity producers know how to produce enough reliable electricity for virtually any situation--certainly plenty for the heat wave CA has been experiencing this year. All you need to do is build enough reliable power plants: nuclear, natural gas, coal, or hydro.
  2. CA, attempting a mini-mini-Green New Deal, decided to mandate that a lot of the electricity generated in the state had to come from unreliable, "renewable" solar and wind electricity. We shut down reliable gas and nuclear plants to hit our renewable targets.1
  3. While California boasts about its massive use of "unreliables"--@KamalaHarris has called it a "model"--the reality is that it is a massive electricity parasite, hugely dependent on reliable gas, nuclear, and coal plants from neighboring states such as AZ, NV, and UT.2
  4. What happens to a state trying to rely on "unreliables" during a regional heat wave? The wind dies down. The sun dies down daily. This meant CA needed more electricity from the states with “reliables”--but those states needed more, too, so they sent CA less. Surprise...blackouts!3
  5. Everyone needs to learn from CA's blackouts--and fast. Policies mandating unreliable solar and wind electricity are making our electricity grid more unreliable every year. If we do not make reliability a priority we will become a third-world grid with frequent blackouts.
  6. Nationally we face the prospect of frequent "green blackouts" thanks to a cocktail of 3 bad policies: 1) mandating unreliables (solar and wind), 2) prematurely shutting down ultra-reliable coal and nuclear plants while 3) stopping the construction of natural gas infrastructure.4
  7. What is @JoeBiden's answer to the CA blackouts? His "plan" would make them nationwide and frequent via 1) more mandating unreliable solar and wind, 2) more shutdowns of ultra-reliable coal and nuclear plants, and 3) more obstacles to urgently-needed natural gas infrastructure.5
  8. Blackouts aren't the only problem with green energy policies. The main problem is cost. Because wind and solar are unreliable they can’t replace our reliable power plants, only duplicate or supplement them at tremendous cost. Even when CA electricity is working it's expensive.6
  9. Every candidate who supports mandating "unreliables," let alone the Green New Deal or @JoeBiden Plan, should be reminded of the utter failure the mini-mini-GND/Biden-Plan has caused in California. I hope @realDonaldTrump raises this in the debates and uses the term "unreliables."
  10. There is no world in which mandating "unreliables" makes sense. If you want to lower CO2 emissions, decriminalize reliable nuclear energy--something the Joe Biden plan completely fails to do.


  1. Between 2014 and 2019 California has increased the share of solar and wind on its electricity grid from over 12% to over 26% (or by over 25 terawatt hours annually). During that period natural gas in-state generation declined from 122 terawatt hours to 86 terawatt hours (or from 61% to 43% of total in-state generation) annually.
    California Energy Commission 2014 Total Electricity System Power

    California Energy Commission 2019 Total System Electric Generation

    California’s San Onofre nuclear power plant was shut down in 2013 despite only requiring the replacement of a steam generator for less than $700 million.
    Mark Nelson and Minshu Deng - California Nuclear Closures Resulted in 250% Higher Emissions from Electricity,

    The state’s last remaining nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, will shut down by the mid 2020s.
    Regulators vote to shut down Diablo Canyon, California’s last nuclear power plant - Los Angeles Times

  2. “California has been a leader in renewable energy sources and it’s time we become a model for the rest of the country. This is why I support plans to create a 40 percent national renewable energy standard for electricity providers by 2035.”
    Kamala Harris on Facebook October 27, 2016

    California received net imports of one quarter (27.8%) of its total electricity in 2019. This electricity comes from neighboring states and regions, including Canada and Mexico, which provide reliable electricity in times when California is unable to generate from solar or wind and stable local electric grids to export unreliable excess electricity generated by solar wind into them.

    If all these neighbors would emulate California’s policies, there would be nobody left to rely on for reliable grid electricity.
    California Energy Commission 2019 Total System Electric Generation

    Neighboring states Arizona, Nevada, and Utah rely heavily on natural gas, coal, and nuclear, while Oregon and Washington primarily rely on reliable hydro.
    U.S. Energy Information Administration Arizona State Energy Profile

    U.S. Energy Information Administration Nevada State Energy Profile

    U.S. Energy Information Administration Utah State Energy Profile

    U.S. Energy Information Administration Oregon State Energy Profile

    U.S. Energy Information Administration Washington State Energy Profile

  3. Michael Shellenberger - Why California’s Climate Policies Are Causing Electricity Blackouts, Forbes August 15, 2020

  4. A key tool in mandating solar and wind on US state grids are so-called Renewable Portfolio Standards, which the majority of US states have already adopted. These standards require the local regulators to ensure that state-wide electricity to come from renewables by a certain share within a specific time frame. This can be up to 100% as California and New York require by 2050. Theoretically this would often include sources like hydro, geothermal or biomass by local rules. However, unreliable solar and wind are the only sources that have the potential to scale up as quickly.

    Another significant policy that favors unreliable wind is the wind energy Production Tax Credit, which provides a financial incentive to prioritize wind electricity over other sources, and damages the economic viability of the reliable backbone of America’s electric grid, particularly coal and nuclear.
    U.S. Energy Information Administration - Renewable energy explained, Portfolio standards

    2020 Talking Points on Wind Production Tax Credit

    The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that both coal and nuclear electricity generation will decline in the short term with few additions and several retirements scheduled. Both natural gas and renewable capacity is projected to increase significantly.
    U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA projects generation from coal and nuclear power plants will plateau after 2025

    Fossil fuel infrastructure like natural gas pipelines face increasing resistance from green activists and politicians who see this as an opportunity to attack the economic viability of fossil fuel production in the US.
    Institute for Energy Research - While U.S. Pipelines Are Under Siege, China Streamlines Its Oil and Gas Network

    Institute for Energy Research - Natural Gas Moratorium in New York Due to Lack of Gas Pipelines

  5. Joe Biden has not put a focus on the only reliable and scalable energy technology that could have a shot at replacing fossil fuels in the long run, which is nuclear. Instead he emphasizes renewables, which for all intents and purposes means solar and wind.

    Biden is also in favor of financial support for renewables, primarily solar and wind, which would be even more destructive to American energy affordability and reliability than already existing schemes like the wind energy Production Tax Credit.

    At the same time he favors restrictions of fossil fuels, which would damage America’s energy independence from the fracking revolution.
    2020 Talking Points on Joe Biden's Energy Plan

    2020 Talking Points on Wind Production Tax Credit

  6. Between 2009 and 2018 California’s electricity rates rose almost 4 times faster than the national average. So much, that by 2018 the California industrial electricity rate -typically the cheapest type- was more expensive than the average US residential rate -typically the most expensive type.
    U.S. Energy Information Administration - Electricity data browser, Average retail price of electricity, 2009-2018

    U.S. Energy Information Administration - Electricity data browser, Average retail price of electricity, indexed 2009 - 2018