California’s Energy Crisis

Cholla Power Plant, Arizona. Photo by Aaron J. Wolf
Cholla Power Plant, Arizona. Photo by Aaron J. Wolf

One thing you learn as you travel across America is that our energy and environmental challenges come from unexpected places. Arizona, a state that for many of us exemplifies alignment with the environment, apparently is not as much so as we might think. Indeed, the state has been singled out by the EPA as a producer of greenhouse gases.

Much of the reason for that lies in the way Arizona has urbanized over the past half century (read “sprawl,”) and the resultant need for an air conditioner in every home, if not every window. For historic reasons, Arizona cannot lay proportional claim to the output of Hoover Dam, so it must turn elsewhere for the energy to keep its citizens cool in the summer heat and dry beneath the annual Monsoons.

The Cholla Power Plant, pictured, gives a clue as to why. The plant is considered by the authorities to be among the dirtiest (most polluting) coal-fired power plants in the US. The EPA has put Arizona Public Service, the plan’s owner, on notice: make costly renovations to clean up the plant, or close it. The jury is still out.

With our mix of nuclear, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and the like, California and our public utilities do not face the same stark choices that Arizona does. Nonetheless, we might, and right soon. The growing backlash against nuclear, combined with the effects of an extended drought, mean that we may for our own reasons find ourselves scrambling for the energy to power our future.

Today we are focused on water. California’s next energy crisis is right around the corner, and we won’t be able to blame this one on Enron. We can only wonder if we will be ready for it, or if we will let it catch us as unprepared as we were for the drought.


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