National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO Glenn English and Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperative CEO Jackson Reasor write in the Washington Post:

In the past five years, utility bills have risen 30 percent, largely because of the rising cost of fuel, mainly coal and natural gas. The country’s leading consumer organizations, including the Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union, recently wrote to President-elect Barack Obama, calling on him “to devote as much attention to the affordability of electricity as has been devoted to gasoline.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts that by 2030, demand for electricity will be 30 percent higher, the equivalent of adding four Californias to the power grid.

In some regions, demand will soon outstrip supply. The North America Electric Reliability Corp., which oversees the reliability of the U.S. electric power grid, projects that the desert Southwest will be at risk for blackouts in 2010 because of a shortage of power generation capacity. An Agriculture Department report this year on rural electric power generation found that “brownouts are probable unless investment in transmission is increased and simultaneously, energy efficiency efforts and demand side management must be intensified.”

These warnings echo what we’ve reported before from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. According to NERC, over the next decade 135 gigawatts of new capacity will be needed to meet the growth in consumption. But right now plants producing a total of 57 gigawatts are planned. Renewable sources of power will not be able to make up the difference. Despite decades of subsidies, alternative energies such as wind and solar power contribute only 1% of our nation’s energy needs. And states that have set renewable energy goals are failing to meet them.

But the left has its own solution: energy efficiency. The Center for American Progress’ Joe Romm writes:

While a few states have energy-efficiency strategies, none matches what California has done. In the past three decades, electricity consumption per capita grew 60 percent in the rest of the nation, while it stayed flat in high-tech, fast-growing California. If all Americans had the same per capita electricity demand as Californians currently do, we would cut electricity consumption 40 percent. If the entire nation had California’s much cleaner electric grid, we would cut total U.S. global-warming pollution by more than a quarter without raising American electric bills. And if all of America adopted the same energy-efficiency policies that California is now putting in place, the country would never have to build another polluting power plant.

But Romm pretends that all this energy efficiency has been cost free … even economically stimulating. He’s dead wrong. The Manhattan Institute’s Max Schultz reports:

dirty secret about California’s energy economy is that it imports lots of energy from neighboring states to make up for the shortfall caused by having too few power plants. Up to 20 percent of the state’s power comes from coal-burning plants in Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Montana, and another significant portion comes from large-scale hydropower in Oregon, Washington State, and the Hoover Dam near Las Vegas. “California practices a sort of energy colonialism,” says James Lucier of Capital Alpha Partners, a Washington, D.C.–area investment group.

Another secret: California’s proud claim to have kept per-capita energy consumption flat while growing its economy is less impressive than it seems. The state has some of the highest energy prices in the country—nearly twice the national average, a 2002 Milken Institute study found—largely because of regulations and government mandates to use expensive renewable sources of power. As a result, heavy manufacturing and other energy-intensive industries have been fleeing the Golden State in droves for lower-cost locales. Twenty years ago or so, you could count eight automobile factories in California; today, there’s just one, and it’s the same story with other industries, from chemicals to aerospace. Yet Californians still enjoy the fruits of those manufacturing industries—driving cars built in the Midwest and the South, importing chemicals and resins and paints and plastics produced elsewhere, and flying on jumbo jets manufactured in places like Everett, Washington. California can pretend to have controlled energy consumption, but it has just displaced it.

Even before President-elect Barack Obama takes office, the United States has been forced to follow the left’s energy efficiency gamble. A network of environmental groups including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council have coordinated to stop construction on 65 coal plants and 13 natural gas plants nationwide.

Obama is going to have a compliant Congress to implement all the energy efficiency measures he wants. If the blackouts still come in 2010 we will know exactly who to blame.