Pacific Gas and Electric Co. just announced plans to prematurely shutter California's sole nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon.
The news came hours after energy officials issued the year's first "flex alert" -- a warning that certain areas should conserve energy to avoid a blackout.
That's right -- at a time when California's electrical grid is under unprecedented strain, the state is abandoning one of its largest sources of dependable, clean energy.
The plant's operators and the environmental groups who orchestrated the shutdown intend to fill the energy gap left by Diablo Canyon's closure with wind and solar power, as well as conservation initiatives. Even if they make good on those promises, the transition will come at a high cost -- particularly to low-income Californians already struggling to keep their lights on.
It's no exaggeration that the Golden State is in the midst of an energy crisis. The average retail electricity price in California is about 50 percent higher than in the rest of the country. Consequently, more than 1 million households live in "energy poverty" -- that is, they spend more than 10 percent of their incomes on energy.
Remarkably, environmentalists have reacted to this bleak situation by orchestrating the closure of Diablo Canyon -- needlessly cutting the state's supply of energy. After three decades of incident-free operation, the plant will close 20 years ahead of schedule, in 2025. At that point, California will lose a facility that's responsible for 9 percent of the state's electricity production.
Replacing the plant's energy production with wind and solar energy is unrealistic -- and could kneecap the state economy.
Consider what's happened in Germany since it began a large-scale move to renewables. Under its "Energiewende" program, Germany has committed to an 80 percent cut in carbon emissions from electricity production by 2050.
The transition hasn't been cheap. This year, Germany's residential electricity costs are expected to rise by an average of $700 per family, or 13 cents per kilowatt-hour.
To put that in perspective, America's total home energy costs, at 12.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, are lower than just the amount that Germany's will increase this year.
According to the country's energy minister, green power subsidies have grown so expensive that his nation can't afford them much longer. He has also warned that, absent a drop in electricity prices, the country's industrial base is at serious risk.
Despite Germany's disastrous experience, California is planning to duplicate it -- with its own plan for an 80-percent emissions cut by 2050.
There's a better way to deliver the energy California needs at affordable prices -- and it's right under our feet.
The 1,750-square mile Monterey Shale, which runs south of San Francisco along the San Andreas Fault all the way through Orange County, contains as much as 15.4 billion barrels of oil. That would make it America's largest shale deposit.
Advancements in mapping, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have made it possible to recover enormous supplies of oil and natural gas from shale rock formations -- affordably and safely.
Unfortunately, state regulations have virtually guaranteed that all that oil and gas will remain in the ground. California has the country's strictest rules on hydraulic fracturing. Companies hoping to explore the Monterey Shale also face an unnecessarily long permitting process that adds costs and uncertainty to drilling projects.
California is also one of the few states whose land-use laws are so anti-oil that most of its drilling takes place on federal and private lands.
Add it all up, and the Golden State is among the most hostile environments for fossil-fuel production in the nation. That hostility is precluding the state from adding thousands of new jobs -- and artificially inflating the energy bill of each and every Californian.
It's time we lift these restrictions and allow Californians to benefit from our state's ample energy reserves.
With Diablo Canyon nearing closure, our state can't afford to squander yet another valuable energy resource. Unless we embrace the oil and gas revolution by developing the Monterey Shale, electricity will continue to be a luxury good for too many Californians.
Wayne Winegarden, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow in Business and Economics at the Pacific Research Institute.