This mid August week brought out a "Flex Alert" from San Diego Gas & Electric and the state of California.
TV and radio ads urged consumers to turn the thermostat to 78 on the air conditioner and use household electric appliances only after 6 pm.
Seems there's not enough electricity to go around.
Isn't it the utility company's job to provide electricity? "Electric" is even in their company name. Seems strange to get a notice from a private company not to use so much of their product.
I didn't get a notice from the local supermarket that I had to cut back on bananas because there was a shortage of bananas and I should eat fewer of them. Even the gas station has plenty of (high-priced) gas for my car. No waiting in line for gas like I did during the Carter years. The cable company hasn't notified me to watch fewer channels.
Why electricity? Summer is a fairly predictable event in San Diego and the few hot, muggy days of the short monsoon season roll around every year just about now.
Why can't SDG&E plan ahead? Don't they know summer comes this time of year and with it an increased demand for electricity to run the not often used AC units? Why the shortage?
Why is SDG&E's shortage now my problem?
The reason is all too obvious. The utility "company" is private in name only.
SDG&E is a creature of government control in the form of the California Public Utilities Commission which, in turn, is subject to the whims of political fads which have become more powerful than consumer comfort.
Right at the moment in California, building new electricity generating power plants of any kind is politically taboo. Electricity itself is becoming politically taboo.
Environmentalists want to shut down the San Onofre Nuclear plant and have preached the alternative energy gospel for years, but now also oppose the Mojave Desert solar plant (damages the desert tortoise habitat!)
Alternative energy proponents also oppose the necessary transmission lines that will bring solar, wind, and geothermal generated power into San Diego from the Imperial Valley.
SDG&E and all California's utility companies are pressing ahead with alternative energy projects because they are required by state law by 2020 to produce 33% of their electricity from alternative sources.
The real problem is that even if the plants and lines are built, even if the environmentalists fail to stop the alternative energy plants and the transmission lines that carry the electricity to where the people are, these alternative energy sources are not very reliable.
For example, California currently has 4,297 gigawatts of installed wind generating capacity, capable of producing about 6 percent of California's electric demand. The problem is the wind doesn't always blow and, when it does, not always at the right time.
Specifically, the 6 percent wind generation peak occurs just before 1 a.m. but falls drastically, producing at 11 a.m. only 0.2 percent of total electric demand.
The same problem plagues solar.
Solar plants produce about 2 percent of the state's electricity at the peak, from about 11am through 3pm. The problem is that the state's highest demand happens about 5pm when solar production has dropped by over 50 percent from its peak.
Both wind and solar have little value in providing electricity when it is most needed.
I support solar. There is a solar power plant on the roof of my home. But electricity production has to match electricity demand. California needs more natural gas power plants to provide for peak demands in a reliable way.
Four small natural gas-fired, environmentally-friendly power plants proposed for San Diego County are all opposed by individuals and groups that uniformly preach the virtues of electric cars. How are we supposed to recharge those electric cars without electricity?
San Diego needs these natural gas fired power plants and we need them now.
Then there's the cost issue. Solar electricity is 3-4 times more costly and wind is 4-5 times more expensive than natural gas produced electricity.
In 2008, candidate Obama told the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle that his plan would "necessarily skyrocket the cost of electricity". Looks like a promise the President will keep.
Electricity: Not available when you need it. Skyrocketing price. Delivered by a monopoly company which is regulated by a government agency driven by politics. Recipe for disaster. Sweet.