The “Net Zero” Delusions of California’s Ruling Class
Last week, I attended an event in downtown Sacramento produced by an industry trade association. One of the highlights of this event was a plenary session where a high ranking state politician addressed the crowd. The participants shall remain anonymous, because who they were doesn’t matter. What was said, and how it was received, was generic and repeats itself everywhere. The elites that run California are all in the grip of a mass delusion.
The mantra that defines this delusion is “climate change” and the associated sound bites are predictable and uniform: “catastrophic wildfires,” “extreme weather,” “blistering heat,” etc., all of which are evidence of the “climate emergency.” To a skeptic, hearing the incessant, mindless repetition of these soundbites is terrifying, because the policies designed to supposedly cope with the climate emergency are going to destroy Western Civilization.
Therein lies the delusion, and describing this misanthropic folly only as delusion may be giving these policymakers too much credit. Because if it isn’t delusion that impels our ruling class to dismantle and destroy conventional energy infrastructure with nothing remotely capable of replacing it, then it is corruption on a scale rarely seen in the history of the world, and a stupefying indifference to the consequences of that corruption.
Anyone who has watched how the politicians in Sacramento have used the “climate emergency” to overregulate everything, driving the prices for energy, water, housing and transportation to levels only the rich can afford, must struggle with cynicism. And so it is fair to wonder what was really going through the mind of this politician when asked, by a lone skeptic at the aforementioned event, how on earth Californians expected to electrify the entire residential and transportation sectors while adhering to a goal of “net zero” carbon emissions.
Instead of displaying even a rudimentary grasp of the numbers, the politician conjured up an anecdote, describing how the state is encouraging investment in floating wind turbines, to be located 20 miles offshore, “taller than the Eiffel Tower,” cabled to the continental shelf and capable of delivering massive quantities of electricity to homes and industry onshore.
This is a hideous, grotesquely impractical idea. Floating towers over 1,000 feet in height, with massive spinning blades to harvest wind no matter how harsh the storms may be, stabilized with cables anchored to the continental shelf more than 500 feet underwater. What could possibly go wrong?
But imagine that somehow these offshore turbines work as designed. Imagine that in spite of the paralytic permit environment and litigious hellscape that confronts any developer, these wind turbines somehow get built. How many of these monstrosities would we need?
As it is, the average draw on California’s electricity grid is roughly 35 gigawatts, 30 percent of which already has to be sourced from outside California. To electrify California’s transportation and residential sectors, replacing petroleum and natural gas, generating capacity will need to double.
The biggest wind turbines being deployed on earth generate about 10 megawatts at full output. But even offshore where the trade winds blow more consistently than on land, these turbines are only going to have a “yield” of around 40 percent, and that’s being generous. This means each installed turbine’s average electricity generation over time is 4 megawatts. And that means to double California’s electricity generating capacity, we would have to install nearly 10,000 of these Eiffel Towers off the California coast.
Delusional defenders of this epic scam may indignantly point out that there are other forms of renewable energy. They’re right. Solar energy is the biggest ecologically acceptable alternative to wind energy. But bear in mind that to achieve “net zero,” California’s state legislature isn’t merely going to need to double existing generating capacity, they’re going to have to retire all of the natural gas fueled generating plants. If you include power coming in from out-of-state, natural gas fuels almost two-thirds of California’s existing electricity consumption.
That means to achieve “net zero” with wind energy alone, over 15,000 gigantic floating wind turbines would be required. Onshore wind isn’t nearly as practical. The turbines are not as big, the wind isn’t as reliable. Solar farms can achieve results at scale, but with wintertime yields even in sunny California only averaging around 13 percent, finding another 60 gigawatts would require over 3,000 square miles of solar farms. We can’t build single family dwellings anymore because they take up too much space, but solar sprawl is ok. Let’s not forget the high voltage lines to connect all these decentralized sources of energy, or the gigawatt-hours of required battery storage.
These are facts. There isn’t a single competent engineer or financial accountant in the world that doesn’t understand what “net zero” portends. In private conversations, invariably, they are incredulous. How can the entire ruling class of California — a state with the smartest, wealthiest, most innovative people on earth — be so stupid, or so corrupt? “Renewable” energy is not renewable. It relies on orders of magnitude more raw materials than conventional energy, most of it imported from nations with appalling records of environmental and labor abuse. It is expensive and inadequate, and can only lead to a widening of the gap between rich and poor.
That these facts are known leads to the most inexcusable corruption of all, the decision by energy companies and civil engineering firms to accept this delusion instead of fighting it with all the resources at their disposal. Instead of exposing the “net zero” goal as a misanthropic fraud and power grab, California’s corporations, joined by their counterparts throughout the Western World, are opportunistically navigating a profitable path forward that embraces the delusion. Instead of promoting rational and practical policies to prosperously adapt to whatever comes our way, California’s business elites are using scarcity and high prices to consolidate their power while impoverishing the masses.
Achieving “net zero” is a delusion. Until a politician is numerate enough, honest enough, and courageous enough to challenge the delusion, there is no hope. Until a wealthy individual or very large corporation decides to challenge the delusion, and use their financial resources to deprogram California’s voters, there is no hope. Until there is hope, we can vote for nobody, and we can boycott everything. That, too, would be delusional.
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).
This article originally appeared in the California Globe.