The Great Implosion

A couple days ago I referenced Tom Wolfe’s classic essay “The Great Relearning,” and it may be that we have to go through the Great Implosion in order to relearn things like common sense.

As you have heard, California is going through a series of rolling blackouts of the kind not seen since the botched electricity “restructuring” almost 20 years ago ultimately ended up costing Governor Gray Davis his job. Maybe Gov. Gavin Newsom had this fate in the back of his mind with this Babylon Bee-worthy (but in fact real) story from yesterday:

California governor demands probe of power blackouts

Here’s a thought for Gavin: Look in a mirror. Maybe we should start a grassroots effort to mail in thousands of pocket mirrors to aid in the probe.

Everyone understands that California’s headlong rush to decarbonize its electricity system is leading to shortages and grid instability. And being the geniuses that we are, we’re planning to shut down our last nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, in two years, even though as one of the last nuclear plants built and commissioned in the 1980s before we lost our minds with anti-nuclear hysteria it has decades of useful life ahead of it if we weren’t now in thrall to solar-and-wind uber alles.

At this point it is rather tedious to walk through once again the massive problems trying to scale up wind and solar electricity. So I’ll just get out with one more news headline:

Tonopah Solar Energy files for bankruptcy

The owner of a big Nevada solar-thermal power plant that received $737 million in loans from the U.S. Department of Energy filed for bankruptcy on Thursday, according to a court filing, potentially leaving U.S. taxpayers with a whopping bill.

Tonopah Solar Energy LLC still owes $425 million on its DOE loan but reached a settlement under which the department will recover at least $200 million, it said in court documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. . .

Soon after it began operating in 2015, the facility suffered a string of leaks in its hot salt tank, a key component of its energy storage system. It has not operated since April of 2019. The plant had been selling power at $139 per megawatt-hour, the company said. Solar energy contracts for large photovoltaic projects today are generally below $30 per MWh.

What does it tell you that this ginormous boondoggle couldn’t stay solvent when it was paid five times what other solar power projects cost? Meanwhile, lots of renewable energy stocks are rising right now on hopes that Biden will win the election and push the “Green New Deal,” as it will ensure lots more green for things like Solyndra and Tonopah Solar.

Meanwhile, the other implosion in California at the moment is the court ruling that Uber and Lyft will have to abide by tomorrow with California’s insane AB5 law that requires Uber, Lyft and other kinds of “gig economy” workers to be classified as employees rather than independent contractors. Lyft has announced that it is shutting down operations in California at midnight tonight, and Uber is likely to follow.

As a heavy user of Uber before the pandemic arrived, I made it a habit of asking every driver what they think of AB5. The response has been unanimous and emphatic: every single driver hates it with the intensity of a 1,000 white hot suns. I always try to get some background on the drivers and their experience with Uber. They are a diverse lot by age, ethnicity, and so forth. Like taxi drivers, they have cultivated a kind of street smarts about what kind of neighborhoods or customers to avoid at what times (number one to avoid: college towns on a Saturday evening), and so forth. Above all the drivers love the flexibility of setting their own hours, as few or as many as they like. Some people like to drive Uber to make extra money on the weekend. I’ve had several drivers with regular full-time jobs, and some retired white guys who like to do it just to get out of the house. A few make it their primary source of income, but often in concentrated ways, i.e., by driving long days for a week in San Francisco or LA and then returning home to the central valley and taking the next week off.

Like any kind of work or any employer, Uber drivers I’ve spoken with have their specific complaints about the company, but are generally satisfied and dismayed that it can be taken away from them. AB5 was passed at the behest of incumbent taxicab companies who dislike competition, and by labor unions who hate the idea of independent labor. Republicans ought to be able to capitalize on the simple message that commercial transactions between consenting adults ought to be legalized, even in Commiefornia. You might even call it a “pro-choice” agenda.

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