California’s grid was in the highest type of grid emergency and at major risk of blackouts this past week. Despite what skeptics say, renewables are not to blame.

In the last few days, California’s demand surpassed the amount of planned electricity, called resource adequacy, multiple times, pushing the grid into the most severe stages of emergency conditions. Through Californian’s conservation efforts and demand response programs, California’s grid was able to avoid blackouts.

The real reason may surprise you: Our addiction to fossil fuels. Our consumption of fossil fuels produces climate change, which leads to more frequent, prolonged and intense droughts and heat waves. These conditions have recently strained the grid by limiting hydropower production and California’s ability to purchase power from neighboring states, who are also strained during heat waves. In this same moment, supply chain issues and price increases also fueled by inflation are making new energy infrastructure slow to come online these past few years. 

As a result of this state’s dependence on fossil fuels, the grid is at risk of energy shortfalls and higher energy pricing this summer. Yet, we keep relying on fossil fuels during the 4 to 9 p.m. daily energy peak and to try to solve shortfall emergencies. To transition the grid in a sustainable way, we have to come up with solutions that do not dig us deeper into the climate change abyss.

California must take action now to meet energy needs this summer and beyond. We can prevent growing risks to the electricity grid from recurring year after year.

To be clear, California has worked hard to prevent blackouts. In the past year, the California Public Utilities Commission approved purchases of additional power to be used during emergencies, improving existing energy conservation programs, and supporting smaller electricity projects that enhance local reliability, like microgrids.

Governor Newsom and the Legislature have invested an unprecedented amount of the budget into long-duration storage and electricity reduction programs, allocating $2.2 billion dollars for emergency electricity resources that can be tapped if blackouts loom, and created a new process that allows construction timeframes for certain renewable projects to be sped up. 

Despite these actions, the threat to grid reliability this summer has not been resolved. In addition, this problem is expected to recur with greater urgency in the coming years because climate change will make heat waves and droughts more intense. Together, these factors could  jeopardize California’s ability to meet industry reliability standards through 2025.

I believe California must take two definitive actions now to eliminate the risks posed to the grid.

First, California needs to maximize short term solutions for this summer and next. This could be done by expanding the participation in demand response programs to shift energy demand out of energy peaks, making the most of existing batteries and behind-the-meter distributed energy resources, and identifying and using all existing back-up generators during emergencies.

Second, we simply must build clean faster. In order to fix these problems, even for next summer, we need to speed up the pace at which we bring new clean resources online. This could be done by speeding up permitting and siting, improving transmission planning, and continuing to require utilities to buy more renewable resources. Particularly, we need to build clean resources, such as geothermal and long duration battery storage, that can provide power during the daily 4pm to 9pm peak, when the grid is most stressed and reliant on fossil fuels. 

These actions among other grid reliability solutions were discussed in a hearing I recently held in the Capitol to explore grid reliability solutions.

If we successfully increase our clean energy resources, California can reduce its reliance on unhealthy and dirty energy sources. This year’s conditions have forced the legislature to extend the life of California’s last nuclear facility, Diablo Canyon, to maintain reliability standards. And the government needed to include billions of dollars in identifying emergency resources in this year’s budget — some clean, some not. By enacting the two groups of changes I outlined, California would be able to invest in better, cleaner long term solutions.

It is imperative for California to invest in deployment of more clean resources and in improved grid reliability now to address our present needs and to ensure our ability to cope with growing threats to the grid in the near future.