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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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Sticker shock in the Bay Area

Uploaded: Mar 23, 2021
We welcomed new tenants into our in-law apartment over the weekend and talked about California sticker shock.
They relocated from Louisville, KY and were stunned to see what Californians pay for gasoline. We pay almost $1.50 more than the national average thanks to the state’s unique gasoline formula and gas taxes of almost $1 per gallon, nearly twice the national average. And, despite those high taxes, our roads are in terrible condition (carefully check out the onramp to southbound 680 from I-580. It’s been patched and the patches are falling apart.)
And then consider electricity. Gov. Gavin Newsom has decreed that he will end the sale of gasoline powered vehicles in favor of an all-electric fleet by 2035. The rapid shift to heavily subsidized green power (solar and wind) has shifted the dynamic of unreliable power from afternoon to 4-9 p.m. Remember last summer’s rolling blackouts that demonstrated how unreliable the grid has become with the embrace of green power and no back-up from natural gas-powered plants.
Throw in lack of maintenance on PG&E lines—for which the Public Utilities Commission needs to own as well as the utility—and we are rolling the dice with California’s economic future. Stable and reasonably priced power is critical to both residential and industrial users. California also has some of the most anti-business policies in the country.
A recent report from the energy institute at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and the nonprofit think tank Next 10 warns pricing for electricity threatens the shift to all electric (state law bans natural gas in new residential construction).
A San Francisco Chronicle report about the study noted that PG&E’s rates are 80% higher than the national average. Severin Borenstein, a Cal energy economist, said part of the problem is the state lays costs unrelated to the production and distribution of electricity on the utilities and thus the ratepayers. He cited programs to reduce wildfire risk as well as subsidies for other programs.
The economist suggests that some of these costs could be paid from the state general fund or the utilities could add a fees to bills that would vary according to income level. The higher prices hit low-income families much harder than wealthier people.
The Chronicle quoted Borenstein saying, “At the same time, we’re going to have rates that are going to be so high that it will be a huge discouragement to using electricity for things that we need people to adopt if we’re going to decarbonize the economy.”
Consider also the broader issues and check out this piece by Marvin L. Covault, a retired Army lieutenant colonel. He raises many excellent questions that have not been answered. Consider that the arms of those huge windmills in the Altamont Pass and elsewhere in the country have an estimated 20-year lifespan and there are not considered recyclable. They’re destined for land fills.
It’s a long, thoughtful read. Here’s the link: questions" />


Posted by PleasantonAdvocate, a resident of Ironwood,
on Mar 24, 2021 at 9:02 pm

PleasantonAdvocate is a registered user.

These sound like some compelling arguments, but some of them are debatable.


Kentucky as 79000 miles of roadway. California has 394000.
CA population is 9x Kentucky. Assuming average mile per capita is same -it still means that CA has 5x the roads and they are driven by 10x more people -so each roadway (assuming equally driven) would be driven on 2x and will need more maintenance and have shorter life. Not to mention the fact that CA has all sorts of earthquake challenges, diverse wildlife and different geo to make the roads more complex.

Posted by Don G, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 25, 2021 at 9:54 am

Don G is a registered user.

California DOES NOT ban natural gas in new construction. SOME cities have gone that way, but not the State.

Posted by Anne Cavazos, a resident of San Ramon,
on Mar 25, 2021 at 11:45 am

Anne Cavazos is a registered user.

Hello Tim,

As the first commenter noted, you do have many compelling arguments. The higher costs in California is certainly a complex issue but not one I believe can be addressed in a five paragraph blog. I'm positive that many other issues are involved. I do however, appreciate you starting a conversation about the issues we have in California. I would specifically like to address the electricity problem.

2035 is 14 years from now. I certainly hope that the grid infrastructure will be improved by then. Green power is certainly not to be blamed for the outages, it is the grid infrastructure. California also has hydroelectric power which is on all the time in the summer.

As an aside, I don't believe that we should only focus on all electric vehicles. I owned one for awhile and although I observed many benefits to owning on there are many challenges as well.

Challenges to owing all electric include:
- the cost of the vehicle itself
- people who live in multi family units and do not have access to a 240V charging capability
- In my own experience, the charging units are not well maintained. I've been at a a supercharging station where one charges at a very low rate but the next one over is working at full capacity. If the entire charging area is full, no one can get charging at full capacity. For the 220 mile vehicle I owned, it took anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours to get a full charge which I wanted to have during the wildfires last summer in case I needed to evacuate. At home with a 240V charger, the same as a dryer uses, it charges overnight.

I would like to see hydrogen powered cars included in the governor's plan.
Hydrogen powered vehicles take about 5 minutes to fill, similar to filling a gasoline or hydrogen powered vehicle. They also have similar ranges to the electric vehicle and companies are working on improving the technology.

I would appreciate any substantive feedback on my comments.


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