Waiting for the lights to go out in California


The State Legislature of California has just passed a law requiring that:

Earlier today, the California Assembly passed a bill that would oblige state utilities to get a third of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.

I have the popcorn making scheduled for late 2019 as we watch the lights go out all over California. Because there's no way at all that this can actually happen.

To take one of the supposed benefits of the scheme first, supporters claim that this will create 500,000 "green collar jobs". And as we've shouted repeatedly over the years, jobs are a cost of a scheme, not a benefit. A certain M. Bastiat pointed this out 161 years ago: enough time, surely, for even Californians to have grasped the idea? This will mean 500,000 people not designing computers, caring for the elderly, making movies or growing garlic (that last actually an important part of the economy, surprisingly, up around the Gilroy area). We thus lose that output while we gain the energy but if we used a less labour intensive method of generation we could have both the energy and the computers/happy oldsters/movies/garlic and would thus be richer.

However, the law is much, much, worse than this. Here. Section 6 states that large scale hydroelectric power does not qualify as being part of that 33% target. Which, given that large scale hydroelectric power currently produces 14.9% of California's electricity, is something of a problem. If you include that large scale hydro, renewables currently generate about 18% of California's power.

So actually the target is that renewables (ie, solar, wind, small scale hydro, geothermal, biowaste etc) need to grow from maybe 3% of current electricity generation to 33% in only 9 years. I suggest that, whatever the politicians in Sacramento might think or say, this just isn't going to happen. The lights are going to go out.

Oh, and if ignoring M. Bastiat isn't enough, they seem ignorant of the findings of Adam Smith and David Ricardo as well. Section 6 also seems to be saying that all of this generating capacity that isn't going to be built should be built within the State. Meaning that they've quite ignored the value of trade despite being part of an enormous free trade block of 300 million people known as the United States of America.

While I am entirely on message that climate change is a problem and one we ought to do something about might I suggest that stumbling around in the dark might not be the very best of solutions?