CARB Wants To Take On Vast New Powers

FEB 3, 2011


On Wednesday UC Santa Cruz environmental studies professor Timothy P. Duane addressed an audience at the University of California Sacramento Center on the “Greening of the Grid.” His lecture also provided a revelation of sorts about Mary Nichols, recently re-appointed as head of the California Air Resources Board.

According to Duane, Nichols wants to turn CARB into an “energy agency.” Nichols was not in attendance and Duane provided no details of how she planned to transform CARB or what authority allowed the unelected regulator to make the change. Some CARB and California Energy Commission regulators were in the audience, however, and Duane was talking their language.

Environmental policy was a key “export” of California, according to the professor. The Golden State had lost the edge it had in the 80s but was now important in the new approach, centering on “climate change.” Professor Duane hailed AB32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, but did not cite any criticism of that legislation or climate change orthodoxy. Duane made it clear that the new energy approach depends heavily on regulation, particularly its punitive side.

“The stick still has value,” he said, referring to a $10 million dollar fine a California regulatory agency had imposed on a utility company.

Duane’s printed handout “Greening the Grid in California” (Published in Natural Resources & Environment, Volume 25, Number 2, Fall 2010 American Bar Association, 2010) notes that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and California Energy Commission (CEC) have “overlapping  complimentary jurisdiction over electricity regulation.” CARB, he said was “the new kid on the block” and CARB is the lead agency in the implementation of AB32.

The renewable generation industry, the paper explains, “collapsed in California (and throughout the United States) as utilities and regulators delegated resource planning to ‘the market’ in the Deregulation Era of the 1990s,” when “ideological embrace of deregulation by state lawmakers and regulators shifted policy with the intention of minimizing the direct financial costs of electricity.”

Duane hailed Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which his paper describes as “requiring utilities to purchase or generate a specified amount of total electricity needs through a qualifying renewable generation sources.” He acknowledges that RPS has its critics. “Because the RPS target is set by either the political process or regulators, some argue that it is not efficient.” He did not indicate the extent to which renewable sources are capable of meeting California’s energy needs.

Professor Duane acknowledged that renewable energy “must be located at the site of the renewable resource. The green power must then be sent to load centers via high-voltage transmission lines.” As he told the UC audience, this can easily interfere with “water, wilderness and wildlife.” His paper notes that fossil fuels, on the other hand, “can be transported relatively efficiently to more geographically desirable sites for power generation.”

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