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California Leads on Renewable Energy but Needs Fall Short

California Leads on Renewable Energy but Needs Fall Short

Joerg Habermeier | Dreamstime.com

By    |   Thursday, 25 July 2019 11:52 AM

As California often does in matters environmental, the Golden State is leading the way on renewable energy policy with a commitment to be get 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2045.

This transition is a monumental task, and one in which the numbers aren’t yet adding up.

That is, except those showing that the electricity required to power millions of California homes will need to be replaced by then, when natural gas, coal and nuclear generation will have been phased out.

Statistics from the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration show that 44 percent of the 16.82 million megawatt (MW) hours generated in March came from those sources. Based on the typical American home usage of 867 kilowatt hours in a month, that translates to 8.53 million California homes that will need a new source of power by 2045.

To fill the gap, wind and solar must lead the way, based on the current state of renewable technologies. The catch is these power options require far more real estate to operate than traditional sources like natural gas or nuclear.

Let’s imagine for a second that the State of California could act like China, which has a planned economy and can dictate what it needs to meet its power requirements.

If California decided it was going to use wind power to meet all of its renewable energy needs, here’s what that would look like: Using wind turbines that need 1.5 acres to generate 3 MW each, the state would have to find 3.7 million acres of land to build 2.46 million turbines. Since wind power doesn’t operate at 100 percent, it requires a buffer of extra land.

That’s 3.5 percent of the entire state’s footprint to meet its forthcoming energy needs with wind power. Even if these initial assumptions were plausible, finding that much land is a huge challenge – especially because California isn’t China and can’t just take what it needs.

Real estate is not cheap in the Golden State, but that’s not even the first consideration. The bigger question is how much land is available, where is it and how much would it cost to develop for renewable energy?

That’s a difficult answer to discern, especially because are there are severe limitations on both the availability and suitability of land for development.

Even the desert, where land is cheap and the weather is windy, is not as simple to develop as one might expect. The Department of the Interior has set aside more than 10 million acres of California wilderness for conservation and recreation efforts.

Nearly half of California is federal land, and about 80% of federal land in the desert is off-limits for wind development. At the same time, large-scale wind projects are severely restricted or even banned in large metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and San Diego counties. Inyo and Solano counties, two high-potential sites, also have restrictions in place.

Although California has designated six major Wind Resource Areas for wind projects, they only encompass a fraction of California’s land areas, as shown in the map below.

How about offshore wind? If Denmark and Rhode Island can do it, surely California can do it?

Not so fast. Although the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is working to open areas for wind development, the U.S. Navy restricted many offshore areas of California.

So, should California throw in the towel and quit? No. It should however, look beyond its political borders to avail itself of regional wind capacity.

It is clear that looking for sources of renewable energy outside of the state would be wise, especially with the proliferation of it in less populated, nearby states such as New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming. Projects are being planned, land is much less expensive and the wind is blowing. Fortunately, the California Public Utilities Commission is looking outward for the most cost-effective solutions. In fact, a 2019 planning document shows that California consumers could save $558 million dollars by using out of state renewables.

Perhaps the phrase widely attributed to newspaper editor Horace Greeley, in 1865, needs some updating for 2045: "Go West, young man, and bring your renewable energy with you.”

Ryan Scott is Vice President at HBW Resources. He previously worked at Deloitte & Touche’s Strategy & Operations Consulting practice.

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As California often does in matters environmental, the Golden State is leading the way on renewable energy policy with a commitment to be get 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2045.
california, renewable, energy
Thursday, 25 July 2019 11:52 AM
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