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December 06, 2013

LA Times Gets It Wrong on Renewables Grid Impacts

WindEvan Halper's December 2 article in the Los Angeles Times, "Power Struggle: Green energy versus a grid that's not ready" perpetuates the false narrative that renewable energy increases the risk of blackouts, when in fact the problem is centralized fossil fuel nonrenewable generation.

A more accurate, but perhaps less sensational, story would detail California's national leadership in reliably increasing the use of renewables -- like solar and wind energy. A recent report by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation and the California Independent System Operator, two entities charged with ensuring grid reliability, highlights the many solutions the state is already adopting to address concerns raised by Mr. Hapler.

For example, despite Mr. Halper's claim that "nobody can say for certain when the wind will blow or the sun will shine," the potential grid impacts arising from the variability of wind and solar energy are being addressed through improved forecasting and new regional partnerships that better leverage the geographic diversity of wind and solar resources, reducing overall variability in the energy system.

The article also suggests that California regulators recklessly disregarded cost concerns in requiring utilities to deploy energy storage. This couldn't be further from the truth. State regulators only adopted an energy storage requirement after an independent third-party analysis concluded that it is a cost-effective resource offering significant grid benefits.

As for renewables, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently concluded that if a third of the energy in the West were supplied by wind and solar, these resources would displace $7 billion in annual fuel costs and reduce greenhouse gas pollution from the energy sector by approximately 30 percent.

The article also devotes significant space to depicting the effects of a 2011 blackout in San Diego that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission attributed to a faulty response by grid operators following an outage of a transmission line. This blackout had nothing to do with renewables. To the contrary, local clean energy like rooftop solar helps mitigate these types of events by generating energy locally and reducing reliance on imported power.

Of course, entirely missing from the article is the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas pollution to avoid the increasingly catastrophic impacts to California and the rest of the world. As the LA Times reported the day after Mr. Halper's article was published, a new National Resource Council report warned that accelerating levels of greenhouse gas pollution are increasing the risk of abrupt and severe changes to the climate that will leave nature and society with little time to react. California's leadership in both increasing the use of renewable energy and proactively finding solutions to address any grid impacts should be commended and accelerated, not baselessly criticized.

-- Matt Vespa, Sierra Club Senior Attorney


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