Is the solution to a California natural gas shortage doing away with natural gas?

If it weren’t for the fact that so many livelihoods, if not lives, are at stake, one would be tempted to smile at the sentiment expressed in a Los Angeles Times editorial a few days ago that lawmakers must do more, faster to “induc(e) consumers to shift from gas to electricity generated by renewable resources.” The Times’ prodding comes on the heels of a proposed moratorium by the California Public Utilities Commission on new gas hookups to commercial and industrial customers in parts of Los Angeles County through March. The proposal resulted from concerns about “adequate capacity in the system to meet foreseeable need,” according to the CPUC.

As context, natural gas plays a rather sizable role in California’s energy system and, thus, as an underpinning of the state’s economy. For example, it provides 50 percent of the in-state electricity generation and more than one-third of the state’s total power mix, according to the California Energy Commission.

One could hardly accuse California of not being aggressive in its determination to achieve a clean energy future. The state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard mandates that 50 percent of electricity retail sales be served by renewable resources by 2030, and a recent annual RPS reportfiled with the state legislature documents the impressive progress that’s been achieved to date.

Nonetheless, the Times appears insistent that, because there are concerns about a gas shortage, the solution is to … eliminate natural gas as a potential resource. Then Californians won’t have to worry whether there’s a gas “shortage” or not. To that point, an interesting article posted to the engadget website last month quotes California Gov. Jerry Brown at length on the ability of policy directives to drive technology advances. “We would have never gotten renewable energy prices where they are today without really ambitious public policy,” Brown says. Even Brown, however, suggests the next ambitious goal might be 80 percent renewables by 2050 — three decades away and hardly the pace that would placate the Times’ editorial board.

“If state lawmakers are serious about moving away from fossil fuels such as natural gas, and if local officials want a future without the risks that come with nearby gas storage wells, they can’t wait until the next crisis. They must take action now,” the Times opines.

Click your heels three times, Californians. Renewables nirvana is at your doorstep. The Los Angeles Times says so.

January 31, 2018

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