When it comes to EPA standards, California has a gas problem
That’s because California relies heavily on natural gas. Since 2013, more than half of the nation’s added natural-gas generation capacity has come from California. This development has been far more crucial to the state’s much-ballyhooed emissions reductions than the simultaneous expansion of its renewable-generation portfolio. It’s an inconvenient truth that California’s “green” transformation absolutely reeks of natural gas.
Burning natural gas produces fewer carbon emissions than burning coal, but it still produces carbon emissions. Natural gas has always been considered a “bridge” to cleaner energy-generation systems. The CPP effectively blockades that bridge.
Unlike the draft CPP, the final rule projects that renewable sources of electricity, not natural gas, will be used to replace the dirtiest sources of power. Gov. Jerry Brown and Senate Pro Tempore Kevin De Leon will no doubt celebrate that development, since both men propound the belief that a full 50 percent of California’s electricity will come from renewables by 2030. But their effort to hit that grand target will actually by hindered by a move away from natural gas.
Renewable energy, for all its environmental benefits, fails to deliver the same reliability as natural gas. The reason is simple enough: when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t beating down, wind and solar power shut down. Natural gas, on the other hand, can produce power on-demand whenever necessary. Short of an enthusiastic adoption of nuclear power or the discovery of a long-awaited power-generation holy grail, burning natural gas is the only way to provide Californians uninterrupted modernity.
In other words, as California adopts more renewable sources of generation, the relative significance of gas-powered generation will increase in importance. This will come at just the moment that the CPP curtails the technology’s expansion. This also is all happening just as many of California’s gas plants are reaching their golden years and will require reinvestment to continue operational reliably. Those plants offer irreplaceable capacity that, even under Brown and De Leon’s vision, will be necessary for the foreseeable future.
California may intend to comply with the CPP’s requirements, but successfully doing so will require an “all of the above” approach that those in state office lament. In fact, to keep the lights on and simultaneously reach its environmental goals in a responsible manner, California must avoid thwarting efforts to renew, refurbish or expand natural-gas facilities. In fact, it may need to actively contravene the CPP and increase its reliance on natural gas.