Push to increase CA green power mandate flops

On Jan. 6, a key provision was quietly struck from Assembly Bill 177, a measure introduced by Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez, D-Coachella, that would have expanded the green-power mandate for California utilites from 33 percent to 51 percent by the year 2030.

Voting to delete the 51 percent provision in the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce were Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park; Cheryl Brown, D-Rialto; Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego; Adrin Nazarian, D-Sherman Oaks; Bill Quirk, D-Hayward; Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita; Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals; and Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills. Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, didn't participate in the vote.

It probably wasn't remotely what Perez expected on June 6, 2013, when he touted his bill as being one more powerful example of California's commitment to cleaner energy.  “Amendments made yesterday to AB177 clarify that the 33 percent by 2020 current Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is intended to be a floor, not a ceiling, for energy procurement. It directs all retail sellers of electricity to adopt a long-term procurement strategy to achieve a target of procuring 51 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by Dec. 31, 2030,” he said.

Loss of momentum? Or questions about motive?

What happened to the momentum that environmentalists seemed to have on renewable energy and climate-change issues in Sacramento?

Part of the problem for Perez seems to be that government officials grew worried about public reaction. Perez’s bill was undercut by the June 2013 call from a well-regarded state watchdog agency, the Little Hoover Commission, for a green power “timeout.” One of the many reasons for such a “timeout” was that municipal power departments worried that more electricity rate increases would trigger a backlash. The city of Anaheim's Public Utilities Department warned that AB177 would cause a 15 percent rate increase by 2030. That was in addition to the current estimated 12 percent to 17 percent rate increase to meet the 33 percent green power standard — yielding a combined 27 to 42 percent electric rate increase.

However, AB177 wasn't just opposed by every major business, agricultural, municipal utility, public utility industrial and petroleum trade organization in the state. It was also opposed by the Large Scale Solar Association, the California Wind Energy Association and The Utility Reform Network ratepayer advocates — and had no support from any environmental advocacy organization, either.

This reaction may have been driven by the appearance that AB177 had another agenda: helping Perez's constituents in the 56th Assembly District, which includes the southeast corner of the state, from Indio to Blythe to El Centro.

The Imperial County Board of Supervisors were the main supporter of AB177, as a possible way to build a regional green energy economy. Imperial County has the highest unemployment rate in the state of 23.8 percent.

Dreams of securing state funds to restore the Salton Sea

A related Perez measure is AB148 — The Salton Sea Renewable Energy Bill. It was introduced in the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife in January 2013 and amended this month. It calls for a feasibility study to restore the ecology of the Salton Sea to be funded by California's Natural Resources Agency. AB148 makes technical and wording changes to AB71, which was enacted last year. AB71 filled a void created when Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated funding for the Salton Sea Restoration Council as part of the 2012 state budget.

AB148 seeks to secure funding for the Salton Sea restoration from the potential revenues from renewable energy projects. No support or opposition has been registered for AB148 as yet.

The prospect of expanding California’s “Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard” beyond the now-required 33 percent in 2030 is an idea that probably won't go away. Certainly there are environmentalists who believe, as Perez said last year, that the 33 percent should be a floor, not a ceiling, for the state's clean-energy mandate.
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But when such a proposal came from a state lawmaker in what appeared to be self-serving legislation, environmentalists — and Democratic lawmakers  — declined to lend their support.

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