Gov. Schwarzenegger Energy Blunders

by Ginosar  

I was sitting in the Governor's reception area a few years back, waiting to meet his energy adviser to discuss the Gov. photovoltaic initiative. I saw a stream of  people going into a large conference room. Some were homemakers, young students, ministers, and businesspersons. It was quite a sight, they marched in with dynamism and hope. I asked the governor's receptionist what these people were doing. and she told me with a big smile, they were going to discuss the Hydrogen Highway.


Did you hear about the Hydrogen Highway lately? No. Because the Gov.'s proposal was based on wishful thinking and lack of basic understanding of science and technology.

I am glad that finally someone woke up to the facts and dare to tell it to the larger-than-life Governor.


Hydrogen in useful in some special, but not wide, applications. Hydrogen is not a readily available fuel. You have to produce it from other fuels, most practically from natural gas. The conversion process wastes a lot of energy too. So, why not use the readily available, easily useable natural gas?

The Governor did not consult the experienced people he should have and even if his staff knew about this folly, they might not dare tell him.


This was one of the first of the governor's energy blunders. Gov. Schwarzenegger is a charismatic man, I like him, he is full of energy and desire to improve the state and the world, but his imagination is not coupled sometimes to reality, in the energy area for sure. And the problem is multiplied by limited advice from his staff. I don't know if they do not dare to tell, or are unaware of the mistakes he is making. Or maybe politics is above reason.



The second Gov.'s. folly is his Solar on One Million Roofs. SB1 of 2005, (California Solar Initiative)

It sounds so dramatic, so appealing but it is devoid of usefulness to the state. I wish it was practical technology and approaching economic use, but it is not. Dr. Steven Chu, our Secretary of Energy, said that photovoltaic, PV, needs to drop to one tenth current prices to be used on a large scale. I agree. I have studied it in great depth, from the energy required to move the electrons inside the solar panels to the production and the motivation of the solar industry in California, the US and the global market. I have communicated often and in depth with the Japanese scientist assigned to analyze the success of the vast Japanese photovoltaic program.


The people who pushed it the hardest, and loudest are those who would profit the most from the transfer of money to their pockets, the solar industry. Most environmental supporters have their hearts in the right place, and without them society would have been blind to the importance of environmental issues, but they often lack technical-economic experience and have little knowledge of the complex issues involved. Some environmental organizations that should know better do not want to oppose their member's sentimental appeal of PV.

The total cost to the people of California, in added taxes, increase in electricity rates, government subsidies, Federal funds, including the hidden costs to the unsuspecting PV owners, would be over fifty  billion, and the amount of electricity produced might be up to one percent of California total. At this rate we will break the banks before we can make any useful contribution to greenhouse gas reduction in California or the nation.

More details are available on my website:


I discussed the issue in great depth with one of the two California Senators sponsoring the SB1 bill in 2005, and he dropped his sponsorship. I tried to discuss it with the second sponsor but he and his adviser did not agree to meet with me. I have discussed it also with the Governor's energy adviser, just after I witnessed the mass meeting on the Hydrogen Highway I have mentioned earlier:


I presented the material I developed to the Gov. energy adviser, a knowledgeable and smart fellow. I showed him printouts of relevant research and he was upset because I answered with detailed information, and charts and figures every one of his many reservations, objections, and questions. He did not know what to do and in his frustration left the room suddenly. After he returned I understood his dilemma. How could he tell the Governor that his "Great Idea" is not based on facts and might be counterproductive to the state. I bet he did not tell the governor.


Many Assembly members opposed the bill but the Gov. pushed it through by the aggressive effort of Assemblyman Levin. I was privileged to some of the inner workings of the committee dealing with this issue by working closely with many advisers to the Assembly members at the time. But that is another story.



The latest Governor's folly is the High Speed Train from San Diego to San Francisco. What a lovely dream, what a waste of money!


Trains are efficient mass transportation, they can be fast and economical, significantly better than airplanes, trucks or cars -when they can be used on a mass scale. They are very useful on the very busy East Coast corridor and between San Diego and Los Angeles, and Sacramento region to the Bay area. But they should be used were they are practical and economical. And more than all, where they can actually make a significant difference in reducing global warming in a noticeable way. People in the California government told me that their analysis did not show sufficient riders between the Bay area and Los Angeles. It is a dream project that should remain a dream. Put our money first where the largest number of people could benefit. We do not have the tens of billions it would cost to built it when we can not pay for basic education and medical care for the underprivileged.


What we need to do is reduce greenhouse gas emissions as fast as possible. This is the essential task we are now facing to reduce the severe damage to the global climate that is already impacting the state, and will be more pronounced in the coming years. California government already acknowledged global warming as serious and need mitigations to reduce its impact on the state. Any delay put humanity deeper into a damaging scenario we are not able to grasp yet. Large number of reliable scientists demonstrated GW by real evidence we can see- at the  north pole, in the majority of the world glaciers, and more, that we are on a bad trajectory.

I will not discuss here the scientific evidence, just tell you that we do not have time to play with appealing projects that do not contribute to the urgent effort to reduce the already present global warming.


So now, the Governor wants to attract federal funds, so he cut the ability of local governments to advance improvements in local mass transportation. Instead, the Gov. focuses on a dramatic project that any review will show is based on faulty assumptions. The dream is that somehow millions of Californians will leave their cars in parking lots and take a high speed train to a far destination, rent a car there and proceed to their final destination. There will not be any local mass transit to take them to their final destination since the Governor does not allow them to seek even modest funding to help improve the most practical aspects of their expansions. Most important, there are not so many people who would take this train. You would not be able to divert most of the air traffic and freeway traffic between these destinations to the train.


We need to stop being fascinated by massive dreams and concentrate on projects that are highly likely to make a read difference on GW and help the people too.


The Governor is an appealing man, his dreams are big. He succeeded to rise to a high position with his dreams, but his energy dreams are not practical and should not be allowed to divert us from our focus: cutting greenhouse gases at the maximum rate, and as soon as possible.


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