Dems damn dams

JUNE 16, 2010


With a win for PG&E but a loss for hydroelectric power plants in the state, the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications committee today killed part of a bill that would have added all hydroelectric power to the California Renewables Portfolio Standard.

Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, authored SB 1247, a bill that would add large hydroelectric power to the list of California’s eligible renewable energy resources, and broaden the definition of “eligible renewable energy resources.” As a result, SB1247 could impact the rate of California’s conversion to renewable energy sources, simplifying the bureaucratic permitting process which currently includes California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act reviews, the California Public Utility Commission, county governments, air quality districts and the California Energy Commission.

The bill has a second component that would recognize already planned efficiency improvements at PG&E’s Rock Creek hydroelectric generation facility as an eligible renewable resource. Rock Creek Powerhouse hydroelectric plant is located on the North fork of the Feather River and has a $37 million upgrade planned, that will add about 11 megawatts of capacity.

Dutton explained that he has consistently worked to make California more competitive to business in order to help speed up economic recovery, and said that more affordable energy needs to be accessible in the state.

Based on water, hydroelectric power is one of the cleanest fuel sources as well as a renewable energy resource, according to Dutton. But, large hydroelectric power is not eligible to meet the standards of the RPS.

Dutton said California’s definition of renewable energy resources arbitrarily excludes hydroelectric generation greater than 30 MW. SB1247 would expand the definition of renewable resources to include all hydroelectric generation of any size.

Dutton said that California is going to be faced with a 60 percent increase in electricity rates because of the state’s efforts to fight global warming under AB32.

However, the committee analysis for SB1247 noted that large hydroelectricity power “was excluded from RPS eligibility because of other adverse environmental impacts associated with conventional hydroelectric power generation and typical on-stream pumped hydroelectric storage facilities.”

David Duran from Dutton’s office reported that the committee analysis does not mention the adverse environmental impacts of other renewable resources: Solar energy produces hazardous material waste, wind energy kills migratory birds and biofuel production requires the clearing of land.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) considers hydroelectric power a clean fuel. According to the DOE, hydroelectric power plants provide benefits besides affordable electricity, including recreational boating and swimming, as well as fishing at reservoirs.

Written committee analysis provided at the hearing explained that California has nearly 400 hydroelectric plants, mostly located in the eastern mountain ranges, which have a total dependable capacity of 14,000 megawatts. California also imports hydroelectricity from the Pacific Northwest.

Committee Chairman Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, said that he was comfortable with the PG&E Rock Creek efficiency plan portion of the bill, but was not with the RPS expansion to include all hydroelectric power.

Supporters of SB1247 included PG&E and the California Manufacturers and Technology Association.

Opposition came from other renewable energy source groups including Large Scale Solar, Solar Alliance and Union Concerned Scientists.

A representative from Large Scale Solar said that large hydroelectric power “would drown out other renewable energy sources.”

Sen. Alan Lowenthal recognized Dutton as a champion of small business but asked “What do you say now?” referencing Dutton’s support for PG&E’s Rock Creek power plant.

Dutton said certain types of industries in the regulatory climate are benefiting from a type of corporate welfare. Wind, solar and other renewable energy companies “are going to have to learn to stand on their own feet and look to the free market system to function,” said Dutton.

Dutton stressed that he was looking at ways to help reduce the cost of living in California.

The committee requested that Dutton amend SB1247 to remove the RPS expansion to include all hydroelectric power, leaving just the PG&E Rock Creek power plant efficiency improvements. Dutton agreed to in order to let the Rock Creek plant improvements take place.

The bill was passed out of committee.

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