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California Energy Crisis II

By aphrael in MLP
Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 12:11:12 PM EST
Tags: News (all tags)
News

Bruce Sterling has an entertaining take on the situation, with a biting satirical style that makes me wonder if he might end up being our generation's Mark Twain.


As far as actual news goes, there's very little. The state has taken bids on long-term power contracts which came in above where the state wanted them (average at $69/KWH not $55, but still far below spot market prices at $600); after a couple days of surreal rolling blackouts the state started buying power with a $400 million emergency allocation (expected to last a week and a half) and selling it to the power companies; and there is serious discussion of buying PG&E's hydroelectric plants.

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California Energy Crisis II | 23 comments (22 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
Big deal (3.66 / 9) (#1)
by GreenCrackBaby on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 08:40:11 PM EST

Signal 11 recently posted a story asking why people are always nitpicking about a story being US-centric. Well, this is a fine example right here.

Don't get me wrong, the situation in CA is no joke. But I find it very ironic that in all the comments here and new stories from the US there has never been a mention about how the situation is affecting your neighbors north of the border.

In fact, you probably don't realize that as of yesterday people living in the province of Alberta are now paying an addition 50% more on their natural gas bill. So what, you say? Well, unlike CA, we use our natural gas to heat our houses. Going without it is not an option. For my house I'm paying $300+ per month to heat it, compared to $70 last year. People here are losing their homes over this.

I forgot my point now, but my fingers are literally frozen and I don't care to write any more.

can you blame us in the U.S.? (3.33 / 6) (#5)
by kei on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 09:01:49 PM EST

Perhaps there aren't any comments about the situation in Canada because the people writing comments aren't in Canada? Has the thought occurred to you that maybe people would prefer to talk about things they have personal knowledge of? And that said knowledge might not include the energy situation in a different part of the world from that of the authors?

If you're so peeved that no one has mentioned your situation, no one is stopping you from submitting an article. In fact, it's a very interesting point that you bring up (one that is new to me). Too bad you had to frame it in a rather ludicrous complaint.
--
"[An] infinite number of monkeys typing into GNU emacs would never make a good program."
- /usr/src/linux/Documentation/CodingStyle
[ Parent ]

Post it as a story (4.00 / 6) (#6)
by Wiglaf on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 09:01:51 PM EST

I didn't know about that price jump. Shit write it up if you want to get some discussion on it. But don't kvetch about the us-centric stories and not do something about it.

Paul: I DOMINATE you to throw rock on our next physical challenge.
Trevor: You can't do that! Do you really think Vampires go around playing rock paper sissors to decide who gets to overpower one another?
[ Parent ]
a suggestion (4.25 / 4) (#7)
by mircrypt on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 09:14:20 PM EST

In reply to a complaint about us-centrism in this story, and the lack of commentary on it, all I've got ask is why? Why should there be a problem with a story referring to the California power crisis? It's relelvant. Oh? What's that? Alberta has recently experienced a price-hike in their power. Well, that's a shame. What's even more of a shame is that GreenCrackBaby is willing to raise such an interesting issue, and I meant that sincerely, and not provide any more info.

Yes, the story's us-centric. I'm probably the last person who would defend that as good story writing, but in the case of this submission, it is a) integral to the story and b) irrelevant to the issue: i.e power supply in the new economy, conservation, and price-fixing. I don't mean to start off an argument here, just suggest that there is a time and place for criticism of US-centrism, and another time and place, such as the here and now, for submission of articles along similar lines that elaborate on the Alberta power issue that you mentioned.
"Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you". - Aldus Huxley -
[ Parent ]

This is a global problem (4.00 / 3) (#8)
by Moneo on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 10:15:54 PM EST

Your comments about US-centricism aside, I agree with you entirely. In fact, it's not just a matter of not being aware of the effect this has on Canda -- many Californians aren't even aware it has an effect on nearby states (eg, Washington). Most Californians are convinced that this isn't a big deal, and that it's mostly just media hype. An otherwise enlightened friend of mine was upset to see the situation make the cover of Time magazine -- he didn't think it was important enough.

The situation in California is the result of highly restrictive environmental laws and rampant NIMBYism coupled with a desire for more power at the same cost to the consumer (and, of course, poor legislation). Although these attitudes may be more pervasive in California than elsewhere, they certainly are not unique to it. The (US) consumer is, at the moment, a very dangerous beast -- they want things bigger, better and faster, but at the same price, whether that's power, gas, water or material goods.

This is more than a short-term, local issue. Like it or not, what happens in the US has a global effect. Here's an example that really illustrates my point: US irrigation is largely drawn from the Ogalala reservoir, which formed over millions of years. Over the past century, it has been 70% depleted, and at this rate should be empty by 2050ish. US-centric news? Yes. Global effect? Definitely -- the US is the world leader in wheat production and export, much of it is produced in farms in the Midwest.
Propaganda plays the same role in a democracy as violence does in a dictatorship. -- Noam Chomsky
[ Parent ]

California (4.00 / 2) (#9)
by FlightTest on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 12:52:53 AM EST

In fact, you probably don't realize that as of yesterday people living in the province of Alberta are now paying an addition 50% more on their natural gas bill. So what, you say? Well, unlike CA, we use our natural gas to heat our houses. Going without it is not an option. For my house I'm paying $300+ per month to heat it, compared to $70 last year. People here are losing their homes over this.

Um, actually, many homes here in California ARE heated with natural gas. In fact, I've lived in Southern California my whole life (32 years) and every place I've lived has had natural gas heat and water heater, and a natural gas clothes dryer. I do know of places here that are all-electric, but they are few and far between.

And yes, we do actually need to heat our homes here. Obviously, it doesn't get as cold as it does up there, but even near the coast, it gets into the low 40's regularly at night. The deserts frequently get below freezing. Needless to say, however, is that since it never gets near as cold here as it does up there, my heating bill is never over $50/month (so far). I do have an automatic thermostat that shuts the furnace off during the day, keeps it at 68 until 11pm, then 60 until 5:30am, then 68 until 6:30am when it shuts off.


Why did I flip? I got tired of coming up with last minute desparate solutions to impossible problems created by other fucking people.
[ Parent ]
weather (3.00 / 1) (#14)
by clover_kicker on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 09:04:33 AM EST

>Obviously, it doesn't get as cold as it does up there,
>but even near the coast, it gets into the low 40's
>regularly at night. The deserts frequently get below
>freezing.

You've just described a nice, balmy Canadian spring.

Where I live, it hasn't been above freezing for about a month and a half now. Yesterday I went out and shovelled my driveway for 1/2 hour in my shirt sleeves, 'coz it was nice and sunny and warm, just a bit below freezing.

I'm on the East coast of Canada, it's warmer here then it is on the prairies, those Alberta guys get _really cold_.

Noboby is ever going to freeze to death during your "winter", but a warm place to sleep is just as important as food/water in Alberta.

I've got some sympathy for your heating bill, but not much. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to put some more wood in the stove...

(125$C/cord + elbow grease = a nice cozy winter.)
--
I am the very model of a K5 personality.
I intersperse obscenity with tedious banality.

[ Parent ]
Why I live in Southern California :) (3.00 / 1) (#17)
by FlightTest on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 12:11:12 PM EST

I've got some sympathy for your heating bill, but not much. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to put some more wood in the stove...

I didn't mean to imply I was looking for sympathy for me heating bill, I was pointing out that SoCal does use natural gas, but since it doesn't get cold, our heating bills are relatively small. That's one of the reasons I *LIKE* SoCal, I've grown up with warm, dry weather, and I *LIKE* it. But never fear, what we don't pay in heating bills in the winter, we pay in cooling bills in the summer. :)

Actually, about 1 or 2 people freeze to death in the mountains every year, mostly as a result of gross stupidity. You probably don't have too many people dying from heat exhaustion up there, either. :)

As it happens, we have a consultant here that lives in Montreal. He only pays $60cdn/cord for wood, including tax & delivery. He was shocked you pay that much. He is getting to like our weather VERY much, though.


Why did I flip? I got tired of coming up with last minute desparate solutions to impossible problems created by other fucking people.
[ Parent ]
wildly off-topic: firewood (none / 0) (#21)
by clover_kicker on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 03:00:47 PM EST

>As it happens, we have a consultant here that lives in
>Montreal. He only pays $60cdn/cord for wood, including
>tax & delivery. He was shocked you pay that much.

Hey, sounds like he's getting a good deal.

I didn't think it was too bad of a price for some nice maple split and delivered, but I guess I'll have to shop around more next yr.

Actually, by next year my broken arm will be better and I'll split the damn stuff myself...

Geez, now that's going to bug me. :)



--
I am the very model of a K5 personality.
I intersperse obscenity with tedious banality.

[ Parent ]
right, big deal (4.50 / 2) (#10)
by _peter on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 01:59:57 AM EST

The entire North American continent is curently suffering from high natural gas prices in various degrees. There's local news about it here in the midwestern US.

In fact, you probably don't realize that most people in America are also feeling the pinch on their natural gas bills (and their electric bills if they're unlucky enough to live where the electric company relies overmuch on gas). But none of us are in danger of outages. That's why California is international news and the rest of us are consigned to the "Regional" pages.

[ Parent ]

Blame the news. :) (4.50 / 2) (#11)
by aphrael on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 02:37:12 AM EST

In fact, you probably don't realize that as of yesterday people living in the province of Alberta are now paying an addition 50% more on their natural gas bill. So what, you say?

Nope, didn't know that. Blame my newspapers, not me. :)

That's an interesting data point. It doesn't seem to be a side-effect of what is going on in California --- we aren't using more natural gas than usual --- so much as it and part of the electricity crisis here are side-effects of the same massive natural gas price spike that the oil industry has been complaining about.

Well, unlike CA, we use our natural gas to heat our houses.

Same in California. Our natural gas prices have gone up pretty steeply, too ... and PG&E has been warning that it can't buy any more gas because it's out of cash and nobody will sell to it on credit, so when its reserve runs out late this month, consumers here *will not be able to buy gas*.

[ Parent ]

Natural Gas = electricity for CA (none / 0) (#19)
by GreenCrackBaby on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 02:11:28 PM EST

The state of CA generates much of its electricity by burning natural gas. That's why this problem exists (both in CA and AB)

[ Parent ]
True, but not relevant. (none / 0) (#20)
by aphrael on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 02:34:25 PM EST

The state of CA generates much of its electricity by burning natural gas. That's why this problem exists (both in CA and AB)

CA has been generating most of its electricity by natural gas for decades without causing this problem in either CA or AB. Something changed this year. That change is where you should be sighting your guns.

[ Parent ]

Ummm... (none / 0) (#22)
by GreenCrackBaby on Sat Jan 27, 2001 at 01:20:57 AM EST

The thing that changed was the price of natural gas. That's why this problem exists. That's why CA has no electricity, and why we here in AB have no heat.

[ Parent ]
Ah! (none / 0) (#23)
by aphrael on Sat Jan 27, 2001 at 03:31:04 AM EST

I see where this is going now. Forgive me; I thought you were saying that what was happening in Alberta was *caused* by what's happening in California.

What's happening in Alberta is due to a natural gas price increase, sure. But that's only *part* of what's happening in California: we got ourselves into a nasty mess which was exacerbated by the rise in natural gas prices --- but we'd be having electricity shortages regardless. It just made an already horrible situation worse.

[ Parent ]

But its Bruce Sterling (4.00 / 2) (#12)
by Paul Johnson on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 08:06:45 AM EST

Signal 11 recently posted a story asking why people are always nitpicking about a story being US-centric. Well, this is a fine example right here.

Normally I might agree with you, but this links to a story by Bruce Sterling. He is always worth reading on any topic.

Paul.
You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
[ Parent ]

ridiculous situation (4.20 / 5) (#2)
by rebelcool on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 08:41:00 PM EST

what a terrible situation. The very first thing one learns in any basic economics course is that *price freezing does not work!*. It creates massive shortages..and what has happened in California? Massive shortages.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

power systems (3.75 / 4) (#3)
by danny on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 08:53:17 PM EST

It seems to me that there's a great opening for a popular engineering book on how power systems work. I have a friend who is a power engineer (and my father started off as a power engineer before moving to control), and I keep trying to talk him into writing it.

Auckland (New Zealand) had a several month long outage in its CBD due to system failure (following privatisation). Brisbane (Australia) seems to have really unreliable power. Sydney (where I live) is pretty good, but they keep trying to sell off the power utilities... I really don't think power transmission is something that lends itself to competition (and hence privatising it seems to make no sense at all).

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]

Conservation, not alternative energy. (4.40 / 5) (#4)
by MAXOMENOS on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 09:00:43 PM EST

I used to be optimistic that California could solve this problem with alternative energy. Now I'm almost positive that the only viable approach is conservation.

California has thousands of square miles of desert and mountains, easy places to build huge farms of solar collectors and wind generators. This isn't exactly impact-free energy, but it's energy that California can produce itself, relatively cheaply, without having to produce more carbon dioxide or deal with the dirty fuel pipeline problem. The fact that alternative energy does away with a major part of the power infrastructure (fuel pipelines) gives it a major advantage over traditional gas-powered generators.

A company with sufficient capital could build a whole series of solar and wind farms and sell the energy to California's power suppliers, driving the cost down and aleviating the supply problem.

Here are the problems with this approach, as I see it:

  1. California utilities would have to pour money into new power lines to move this electricity from the eastern power farms to the western power producers. That requires cash that they don't really have.
  2. Nobody except for the government (maybe) is going to lend money to a venture seeking to make money by selling electricity to broke utilities.
  3. None of these 'pirate generator' companies wants to see an alternative energy farm spring up, unless they have a share in its development. These pirate generator companies pretty much own the White House.

The first two problems are money problems, and at this point, the only entity with both an interest and the resources in solving such money problems is the State of California itself.

The third problem is a wild card. There's not a lot that the 'pirate generators' can really do about alternative energy farms, except for get the federal government to pour money into funding more pipelines and generators. OTOH it doesn't make good business sense for them to build more generators (see reason 2 above).

So, ultimately, alternative energy may be a huge bust. The most likely scenario is that California utilities will beg the State to remove rate caps, and then the utilities will radically increase power costs in order to save their financial hides. Hopefully this will encourage people to conserve power, by using energy-efficient appliances, switching off monitors when they're not in use, using florecent bulbs, etc. Which might not be a bad thing in the long run, especially if it catches on elsewhere.


We need an ODMG implementation that's open source. ObJectBridge is one candidate, and it needs volunteers.

No need for an "energy farm"... (5.00 / 1) (#15)
by DesiredUsername on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 10:50:55 AM EST

California is one of the 30 states with "net-metering" laws. If you setup solar/wind at your house, you can sell your excess back to the utility. Example:

Let's say I had a solar system that provided me with power during daylight hours but I needed grid power at night/cloudy/etc. At peak usage, it produces %110 of my needs. During non-peak hours, I use all the energy from my system (if any) plus enough from the grid to make up the difference. During peak hours, the extra %10 flows out onto the grid making my meter run backwards. Not only are you not using power from the grid, you are actually providing some for other people. A double gain!

Disclaimer: According to my calculations, solar does not yet pay for itself in a strictly economic sense. In NH (where I live) it would take about 25-30 years for a solar installation to pay for itself--and the component lifetime is less than that, so you'd have to buy another before the first was paid for. OTOH, you have backup power during "rolling blackouts", you are helping to convert the country to a sensible power system AND you are refraining from destroying the environment. I've only started looking into this, but it may also be possible to buy USED equipment and actually save money on electricity.

Check out HomePower Magazine for more info. Some of these systems are no more complicated than a few solar panels, a rack to mount them on, a wire to run to the house, and an "intertie" to hook it to the power grid. No fuss, no muss.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Already tried alternative power (4.00 / 1) (#18)
by kallisti on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 01:10:14 PM EST

If you drive East of Silicon Valley on Interstate 580 you'll get to an area with lots of windmills. They generally aren't running, as they aren't very efficient to run. If you try to propose anything of this type, people will bring up this failure making it rather unlikely that anyone will want to repeat it. They are the brainchild of Jerry Brown, otherwise known as "Governor Moonbeam".

The Bay Guardian has been pushing for public power utility for some time now, perhaps that will be tried as a solution. Since all the generators were sold off, I don't see how it will help, really.

[ Parent ]

Sympathy levels holding at 0%, Captain (4.33 / 3) (#13)
by DesiredUsername on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 08:08:56 AM EST

I've known all along that CA shot itself in the foot with boneheaded deregulation, and that the real solution was to raise consumer rates (supply and demand, doncha know). But I always had a tiny bit of sympathy because high rates are no fun.

Then yesterday I heard that the San Diego power util was trying to stem the tide of debt by raising rates to the "unheard of" level of $.088/KWh. *ZIP*--there goes my sympathy. Here in NH we already pay $.14/KWh. Yes, you read that right. We pay twice as much as Californians already do. Wise up, California--pay a fair price for the power you want.

(BTW, to those about to respond "what about the poor", I have no objection to assistance for people who need it. But there's no way in hell I'm increasing MY rates so that $200/hr Silicon Valley types can keep cruising along at $.07/KWh)

Play 囲碁
California Energy Crisis II | 23 comments (22 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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