There can be few better examples of ideologically convinced politicians running head-on into reality than a new California law known in the Legislature as AB 1346.
This bill, signed into law in September by Gov. Gavin Newsom, is the personification of today’s faddish hostility to everything fossil fuel by the Democrats who dominate California government.
These ideologues want to ban natural gas appliances from new construction. They want new cars to be all electric before 2040, even if few have the range to travel from one end of California to another without long stops for recharging. And they are getting their way.
Their latest step in this direction is so extreme that even the new law’s backers weren’t quite sure it could be accomplished in the two-year time frame they called for. So they included an almost unprecedented “out” for some of the gasoline- or natural gas-powered devices they seek to ban: If the technology doesn’t exist to replace the affected machines with all-electric ones by 2024, the old types can be used and sold until such technology appears.
News reports on this bill said it bans new gas-fueled lawn mowers, leaf blowers, off-road engines, pressure washers, chain saws, weed trimmers and even golf carts. Few mentioned it also bans gas-powered generators.
Some of that technology exists right now. Electric lawn mowers have been around for a generation or more. Electric leaf blowers exist in brands as well-known as Toro and Ace Hardware, for just two examples. They are not as powerful as their gasoline-powered counterparts, but make far less noise.
So don’t expect lawn and garden shops to carry gasoline mowers or leaf blowers beyond the next two years. But do expect runs on them during the last few months of 2023, as homeowners and contractors seek to stock up before the ban takes effect.
One form of irony here is that especially in times of electricity shortage, “peaker” power plants, most running on fossil fuel natural gas, will be producing much of the juice powering all the allegedly emission-free electric machines now mandated.
But the biggest irony and lack of realism in this one-size-fits-all law comes with generators. These machines produce electric power that’s more vital today than ever before, in part because of unpredictable, inevitable “public safety power shutoffs” in the state’s many fire-prone regions.
While there are a few solar-powered generators on the market, they are not very useful after sundown.
That’s one reason many hospitals, homes and businesses in potential wildfire areas have stocked up on gasoline-powered generators. Even if an electric-powered generator existed today, to be useful it would have to produce far more power than it burns. If there were such a machine on a large scale, it might be the solution to every energy shortage in the world.
Meanwhile, gasoline-run generators are right on the list with the other banned items. It’s a pretty solid bet that the “until technology exists” exception in this law will have to apply to generators.
The plain intent of the new law is to push technology to new horizons. California has done that before, establishing cleaner-car standards that produced the catalytic converter, electric cars and more even when manufacturers insisted it was impossible. Once they realized that if they didn’t produce these things, new companies would and existing brands would lose out on the California car market, companies like General Motors, Toyota and Honda came up with vehicles that met California standards in a timely way.
But what about generators? One reader from Hanford, a contractor, noted in a letter that hotels, assisted living homes and other major facilities are required to maintain existing generators – gasoline or diesel – for fire safety and to survive power outages.
Said the reader, “Somebody better look at the reliability of any new technology before jumping on this bandwagon. In these situations (and in public safety power shutoffs), you are dealing with someone’s life.”
The reader is correct. This new law will clearly work for machines like lawn mowers and leaf blowers. But ideology drove its authors to make it too broad for public safety, and their convictions will soon collide with reality.