Is Gavin Newsom morphing into Michael Shellenberger? Or is he just a politician with a weak compass?
Governor Newsom has never really embraced environmentalism wholeheartedly. As reported by CapRadio, “…two years into his administration, environmental experts say he hasn’t moved boldly enough on ecological issues…where advocates say Newsom falls short is envisioning a future less dependent on fossil fuels.”
Some of his recent climate/energy/environment-related actions lead one to wonder who or what is driving Governor Newsom’s strategy. Did perhaps Michael Shellenberger wading into the Governor’s race in early March 2022 trigger the shift in Newsom’s position on Diablo Canyon? By April, Newsom floated the idea of keeping Diablo Canyon operating past its 2025 closer date.
Shellenberger, a strong proponent of nuclear energy, is the founder of the Breakthrough Institute, a well-funded advocacy group for nuclear power. He has downplayed the gravity of climate change and suggested that we may be “destroying the environment” by switching to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
Shellenberger wrongly wrote in Forbes that “California’s bet on renewables, and its shunning of natural gas and nuclear, is directly responsible for the state’s blackouts and high electricity prices.”
Newsom seems to be taking a page from Shellenberger’s playbook – simultaneously calling for more aggressive climate action while promoting the use of nuclear and fossil fuels. Newsom is terrified that power outages could ruin his political aspiration for the White House – as one environmentalist noted, it’s political ex. In reaction, he has kept several soon-to-close gas-fired power plants open, and, of course, he may get his way with extending the operating life of Diablo Canyon with the solid victory of SB 846, which passed in the Legislature on August 31.
Yet, batteries provided more power than Diablo Canyon during the recent historic heat wave that broke records across California. Mike Ferry wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “During a critical peak the evening of September 5, when the grid was quickly approaching capacity, California’s batteries provided more power — over 3,360 megawatts — than the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant…Batteries provided about 4% of supply during the peak demand, which averted rolling blackouts.”
Further, it could have been even worse without the state’s 1.5 million solar rooftops and 80,000 batteries. The current 900 MW of distributed batteries in California is nearly the size of Diablo Canyon’s Unit 1, according to Solar Power World, thanks to rooftop solar, reducing strain on the grid. Rooftop solar provided as much as 8,000 megawatts during Tuesday’s peak.
The positions Newsom has taken within the last year back up claims that he is basing his actions on political considerations rather than thoughtful analysis and is thus undermining California’s movement toward a reliable, clean energy future from renewables, including solar, wind, and battery storage.
- The extension of Diablo Canyon’s license won’t be subject to the reviews ordinarily required by the California Environmental Quality Act.
- He endorsed building a large desalination plant in Huntington Beach despite widespread opposition from community and environmental groups.
- August 2022: he revived a plan to burrow a tunnel beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Environmentalists said the tunnel would wreck the Delta, not fix it, contributing to the extinction of fish populations and leaving Delta farmers with water too salty for raising grapes, tomatoes, and other crops.
- Newsom signed AB 209, which could prolong the life of a fleet of aging gas-fired power plants.
- Max Gomberg, climate and conservation manager of the California State Water Resources Control Board, quit in protest, saying he no longer believed Gov. Gavin Newsom and his administration are willing to pursue the transformational changes necessary in an age of growing aridification.
- He opposes Proposition 30, a ballot initiative, which would impose a 1.75% tax on incomes above $2 million a year to pay for additional electric vehicle incentives.
- He supports Carbon Capture, which allows companies to separate carbon dioxide from other smokestack emissions, compress it and pipe it underground. This process stokes fears that the carbon could leak in its compressed form and be highly dangerous. It also allows industrial firms to continue spewing other harmful pollutants into the air, so long as they dispose of the carbon.
It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to discern the ideological differences between “environmentally friendly” Governor Gavin Newsom and nuclear and fossil fuel-loving Michael Shellenberger. What happened?