Lynda Wilson Commentary: California’s Power Problems Should Serve as Warning for Washington


We’re taught about a “safe following distance” in driver’s education because bad things can happen when you ride the bumper of the car ahead of you.

In 2005, Democratic legislators forced our state to start riding California’s bumper when it comes to carbon-emission policies. Since Jay Inslee became governor, it’s gotten way worse — as though whatever happens in California automatically happens here.

With California’s extreme energy policies now leading to power blackouts, will our state wise up and start pumping the brakes?

In August 2021, California became the first state to adopt a building code that basically forces new homes and buildings to use electric heat pumps, rather than gas-based alternatives. Sure enough, Washington’s governor-appointed State Building Code Council started down the same path a few months ago. Now natural gas is prohibited in new commercial buildings here, and residential construction is the council’s next target. Naturally, building costs will increase and homes will become more expensive. How does that help with Washington’s shortage of affordable housing?

A few weeks ago, California’s Air Resources Board adopted a rule banning the sale of new gas-powered cars, light-duty trucks and SUVs by 2035. Inslee quickly said Washington would do the same. That’s on top of the new law passed by our Legislature’s current Democratic majority which makes such a ban a goal by 2030.

Days later a heat wave hit California, driving up use of power-hungry air-conditioning systems. It caused the state’s power-grid operator to send alerts asking consumers to back off on using electricity from Aug. 31 through Sept. 9 — with a specific request to avoid charging electric vehicles during certain hours. Tell me: How do you get to work if your car battery is dead?

It’s troubling to consider how the market has been manipulated when it comes to electric vehicles. Between their limited range, charging demands and higher purchase costs, who would own an EV if government didn’t offer financial incentives? No wonder only 0.6% of vehicles registered in Washington are battery or plug-in EVs. I expect the EV manufacturers will eventually offer products that are more competitive and appealing. In the meantime, the free market should be allowed to do what it does so well, without government meddling.

What’s worse, though, is where California, Washington, and several other states are heading: toward flat-out dictating what people can buy. In this case, that means forcing them into vehicles and heating systems that might be unusable. Doesn’t it seem insane to push people toward greater use of electricity even though the electricity may not be there when they need it?

The power-grid issue has caused some contortions for state lawmakers in California. According to The New York Times, they sent several climate bills to Gov. Gavin Newsom, including sharp new restrictions on oil and gas drilling, at about the same time that the first power-conservation alert went out to California consumers. In the same timeframe, according to The Guardian newspaper, they voted to delay the closure of California’s last operating nuclear plant until 2030. That was after Newsom warned of rolling blackouts if Diablo Canyon remained on track to close in 2025.

There’s a similar disconnect in our state. Inslee and his building-code council appointees are working to push Washingtonians to use more electricity in buildings. He and legislative Democrats are trying to force more people into electric vehicles. At the same time, Inslee and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray have become the ringleaders of a plan that would drastically cut access to clean hydropower, through the misguided effort to breach the four lower Snake River dams in southeastern Washington.

How does Inslee expect our state’s power grid to avoid the problems being seen in California? I have yet to hear him explain how wind farms would generate power on a calm day, or solar farms would generate power when it’s dark. Nuclear power does both, but Inslee isn’t lifting a finger to promote it.

Let’s suppose Washington consumers someday receive a California-style alert about potential power blackouts, as the governor has already predicted. Are they going to recall Inslee’s current boast that our state has the “cleanest energy grid in the nation” and be less upset about being advised against charging the electric cars they were forced to buy?

The warning for our state should be obvious: If California’s extreme policies take it over an energy cliff, Washington is on course to follow. A change of direction is needed to protect the people we serve.


Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, serves Washington’s 17th Legislative District. She is a non-voting member of the State Building Code Council.