Saturday, July 05, 2008

Solar & Clean Energy Act of 2008

There's some weirdness around California's Proposition 7:
A November ballot measure to boost the amount of renewable energy generated by California utilities has attracted a wildly diverse group of opponents - from the Natural Resources Defense Council to the Democratic Party and Pacific Gas and Electric Co.


The measure requires all California utilities to generate at least half their power from alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal by 2025, well above the 33 percent level Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to see by 2020. Utilities currently must reach a 20 percent goal by 2010.


The groups, many of which had been working on energy legislation for years, were never really brought into the initiative effort, said Ralph Cavanaugh of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"There was very late consultation," he said. "We asked them last November to step back and take a look at the measure, but by then they already had a finished product."

The initiative sets up such a detailed plan for dealing with renewable energy and siting and building the new, greener power plants that it opens the way for many unintended consequences, Cavanaugh said. Even groups closely involved with renewable energy, such as the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technology, have lined up against Prop. 7.

"If you're going to legislate at the ballot box, keep it simple, don't write 70 pages," he added. "Our objection isn't to their good intentions, but to their bad initiative."
Normally I'd defer to the relevant interest groups on an issue like this, but it's not obvious from the Chronicle article how much of the opposition is legit and how much is sour grapes from not being included in the process.

The full text of the measure can be seen here.

Note that Prop. 7 is only about 40 pages long, not 70. For comparison, Prop. 6 (changing criminal penalties) is about 30 pages long, but probably contains more words. Proposition 5 - which changes sentencing guidelines for non-violent offenders - is about 60 pages long.


Bret said...

Energy can be a highly technical problem. I only read the first seven pages of the bill, but I think the meat of it is thus:

He wants 40% of California's generating capacity to be "solar and clean" (let's just pretend we all agree what that means) by 2020.

He also wants a 3% cap on related rate adjustments during that period. This is stated in the 'Purpose and Intent' section, but not explained further (I did a couple of searches).

In other words, he'd like a massive expansion in capacity (remembering that much of our energy comes from dirty plants that have decades left on their useful life), but provides no money to pay for it. In fact he goes farther, prohibiting the rate increases that the utilities might concomitantly ask for.

I'm all for green energy, but this seems like a breathless love note to solar from a non-professional, which is a sad waste of badly needed resources.

Paul said...

It's possible the real problem is with the Chronicle, which manages to lay out the benchmarks and price cap requirements, but doesn't bring up any objections except that the proposition itself is too long, which is almost the pettiest sort of objection that could be made.

But really, the law already requires utilities to reach a 20% renewable level by 2010. If 50% by 2025 is really that radical (I don't know if it is), then I think environmental groups will have to suck it up and start endorsing nuclear.

Bret said...

There's nothing inherently wrong with 50% by 2025. The problem is that the proposed infrastructure is going to cost money, and the public utilities charged (hee) with meeting this mandate have every right to expect

1) approved price hikes
2) public funding

The issue comes down to the match between old (dirty) plants reaching the end of their useful life, and new (green) ones coming online to replace them. The extent to which the mandate exceeds natural turnover is the extent to which new funding will be necessary.

I think capping the utility's ability to raise prices is foolish, and demands an attached economic feasibility study.

At any rate (hee), I'm about halfway through the bill now, and it also adds these interesting nuggets:

1) Utilities are allowed to recover administrative costs of up to 10% above existing rates, which at best means a possibly-more-reasonable price cap, and at worst, a poorly-written backdoor that leads to a turf war.

2) Some oversight body or another is now allowed to let any retail seller of electricity off the hook for not meeting established targets, as late as 2013, provided a "good faith effort" has been made.

I'm still not sold on this bill. Poorly written mandates on important topics have the doubly negative effect of

1) making the problem they intended to solve worse
2) leaving uninformed voters with the sense that the problem has been taken care of

Which would be a terrible thing to do to renewable energy in America's laboratory for renewable energy.