Tuesday, March 23, 2021

25 years ago regulators started undoing electricty reliability. Now it's to be electricity-only homes?


"PG&E has had its share of massive blackouts since the state deregulated utilities in 1996. Some have been planned, others have not."

So begins an October 2019 in-depth news story on the electric grid. And we're offered this story:

However, in December of 2019 we were told:

    The California Energy Commission cleared the way Wednesday for six local governments to limit the use of natural gas in many new buildings. The policies, which encourage the installation of all-electric appliances, are scheduled to take effect in January.
    Environmental advocates pushing to scale back fossil fuels hailed the commission’s move as a victory, but opponents argue that the gas bans will increase costs, harm businesses and limit consumer choice. Some noted that the all-electric push comes despite Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s warning that wildfire-prevention power outages could persist for a decade.

For residents depending upon reliable energy, an inherent critical conflict exists between California's clean energy goals and the reality of electricity delivery. That should not have to be pointed out to the Energy Commission. But apparently it does.

Perhaps what happened in Texas recently needs to be emphasized. People froze to death because of a long-term power failure. What people don't seem to get is that a 99.90% reliability for a power company means 8.76 hours a year without power per home. Our goal should be less than an hour. We cannot accomplish that without undoing our regulatory history.

In 1996 the California Legislature passed AB1890 which provided that after March 31, 1998, all customers located in the service territories of the investor-owned utilities (IOUs) - Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, PacifiCorp, Sierra Pacific Power, or Bear Valley Electric - would be allowed to shop for power in an open market. No longer would customers be restricted to buying power only from their local utility company. Beginning in 1998 32.7 million Californians living in 11+ million homes went out, compared deals, and picked the one which best meets their needs.

Yeah, right.

The purpose of the bill signed by Governor Pete Wilson, California's last real Republican Governor, was to permit big businesses the opportunity to buy power from other than Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, PacifiCorp, Sierra Pacific Power, or Bear Valley Electric.

In effect, it was one of the numerous actions taken beginning in the Ronald Reagan years as Governor (1967-75) to undo the progressive policies of Governor Hiram Johnson who 50 years earlier responded to an epidemic of political and civic corruption by expanding the role of government in regulating the economy by doing such things as:

  • passing the Workmen’s Compensation, Insurance, and Safety Act in 1913, which in turn set up an Industrial Accident Commission and State Compensation Insurance Fund;
  • curtailing child labor;
  • establishing an 8-hour day and minimum wage for female industrial workers, and
  • establishing teacher pensions, free textbooks for public school children, the creation of a comprehensive curriculum, and mandatory kindergartens.

This led to utility regulation which was solid until 1996. It only took four years to fail with the 2000–01 California electricity crisis created by the manipulations of Enron and others.

To make a long story short our residential electric bills doubled in two years but most of the money did not go to maintenance.

The Legislature, regulatory agencies, and elected state executives need to face a realistic picture of the overall housing cost situation. Part of that is the cost of energy. It's unclear if the regulators have even given consideration to the cost of replacing problematic and aging power distribution systems when considering eliminating gas appliances.

The lower income half of Californians cannot afford to have energy regulators keep making mistakes. An energy plan requires more than a single goal which is exactly what focusing on emissions is. If electricity is the discussed sole emission-free energy source for the future, the discussion must include generation, distribution, reliability, and costs.

Reliability to every customer must be achieved at 99.99%, with cost at a very affordable level. When you're facing a future of freezing or cooking people, you can't just examine emission levels.

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