Is California an Energy Leader?

Is California exercising energy policy leadership that other states (and nations) should follow? The Manhattan Institute's Max Schulz doesn't think so.

the state's energy leadership is a mirage. Decades of environmental policies have made it heavily dependent on other states for power; generated crippling costs; and left the state vulnerable to periodic electricity shortages. Its economic growth has occurred not because of, but despite, those policies. . . .

California's proud claim to have kept per-capita energy consumption flat while growing its economy is less impressive than it seems. The state has some of the highest energy prices in the country – nearly twice the national average – largely because of regulations and government mandates to use expensive renewable sources of power. As a result, heavy manufacturing and other energy-intensive industries have been fleeing the Golden State in droves.

The unreliable power grid is starting to rattle some Silicon Valley heavyweights. Intel CEO Craig Barrett, for instance, vowed in 2001 not to build a chip-making facility in California until power supplies became more reliable. This October, Intel opened a $3 billion factory near Phoenix for mass production of its new 45-nanometer microprocessors. Google has chosen to build the massive server farms that will fuel its expansion anywhere but in California.

And yet, despite a desperate need for more power, opposition to energy projects remains prevalent. State law prohibits the construction of new nuclear plants, and legislative efforts last summer to repeal it went nowhere. Last spring state regulators vetoed a proposal to build a liquefied natural gas terminal 14 miles off the Malibu coast.

Even renewable-energy projects meet resistance. Texas, of all places, is the nation's leader in wind-power generation. High costs, excessive regulation and environmentalist litigation have hampered California's efforts. Texas has just built lots of turbines. . . .

Californians may feel good about their environmental consciousness. But someone needs to build power plants and oil refineries to fuel their economy. Someone needs to manufacture the cars they drive, the airplanes they fly, the chemicals and resins and paints and plastics that make their lives comfortable.

Those things require energy, and lots of it.