In 2000, California was booming
With a thriving economy and growing population, electricity use skyrocketed
The power ran short and blackouts hit
Facing public outrage, state leaders pushed a simple-sounding solution: Build more power plants
Back then, California relied on about 700 plants, big and small. State officials said that wasn't enough
A wave of construction kicked off with Sutter Energy Center in Yuba City
Expected to produce power for decades, Sutter was exactly what state leaders sought
The long-term solution to this problem depends on having more power than we need.
— Gov. Gray Davis, July 2001
Over the next 15 years, nearly 500 more plants opened, including dozens of large facilities like Sutter
The state's power supply jumped 43%, boosting energy reserves to a new high
But along the way, something happened
During a deep recession, Californians started using less power
Appliances became more efficient. Solar panels started appearing on rooftops
As more plants competed for less business, some generators started to idle
By 2015, most California plants generated less than a third of their potential power
Among them was Sutter Energy Center, where production plummeted
After years of decline, Sutter shut down in 2016, only halfway into its expected lifespan
Now two of the state's largest plants may also close because their power isn't needed. Others could soon follow
So, why should you care?
It's costing you money
More supply and less demand should drive down costs. Instead, California's electricity rates have surged 12% since 2008
Meanwhile, prices have declined in the rest of the country
All told, the annual bill to ratepayers has risen $6.8 billion since Californians started using less power
Why doesn't the building stop?
Utility companies are guaranteed profits on new plants, regardless of how much power they sell
That encourages Southern California Edison and other utilities to build plants, even if there's no immediate need for their power
Government officials charged with regulating those utilities say overbuilding is part of their plan to avoid blackouts
Redundancy is important to reliability.
— Michael Picker, president of California Public Utilities Commission, May 2016
The winners are the energy companies. The losers are businesses and families.
— Loretta Lynch, head of the state Public Utilities Commission during the blackouts
There's nothing complicated. It's just bad planning.
— Robert McCullough, energy researcher and consultant
Criticism hasn't stopped the state. More than 10 large new plants are in the works