Mon 6/25: We’re taking a moment from our normally scheduled program to talk about CA’s energy grid. CALL TODAY!

“This is the same bag of goods that was sold to Californians in the late 1990s, when Enron swooped in and took advantage of this speculative market,” said Jaimie Court of Consumer Watchdog, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group.

Just got an emergency message from a resistance group down south that there is a hearing on AB-813, Grid Regionalization TOMORROW! (Tuesday 6/26) and they want everyone to call Hannah-Beth Jackson TODAY to oppose it.

Lot’s of contention and good environmental groups on both sides. We are swayed, however, by the arguments sent from the Sierra Club Director to our local S.C. leader Jim Hines and by this analysis by Indivisible SF. It seems CA has a lot more to lose than to gain, including the loss of over a 100,000 good jobs, as well as inviting Trump into overseeing our energy production.

TLDR version:

The bill would:

  • cost Californians more for our energy
  • prohibit progress of our community choice (CCA), which are providing local renewable energy
  • hurt victims of the recent fires in California by releasing liability of Investor Owned Utilities like PG&E.
  • cause us to import dirty energy like coal power from neighboring states.
  • cede local control of CAISO (California Independent System Operator) to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  This puts us at the mercy of Trump, who would be in charge of appointing the majority of FERC commissioners. He is not a fan of CA and he IS a big fan of coal. Not clear if we could leave once we get in.
  • result in the loss of 110,000 jobs in the energy sector in California.

The bill could:

  • could result in “resource shuffling” between coal-heavy or natural gas power companies to extend the life of their plants at the expense of our renewable energy.
  • help keep these old plants alive longer,causing more localized air pollution with human health and planet-wide impacts.

“We can do better than this…”

Minimal script: I’m calling from [zip code] and am also a member of Indivisible __.I am calling to urge the Senator [___] to vote against AB-813, currently being heard in the Senate Judiciary committee.

Contact:
State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson: (SD-19): SAC (916) 651-4019, SB (805) 965-0862, OX (805)988-1940
Not your state senator?:findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov.

Background sources

Dear James,

Sometimes wonky, inside-baseball issues can wind up creating worrisome risks for the environment, communities and workers.

Whether California should become part of a new, multi-state regional transmission organization (RTO) that oversees how electricity flows around the west is just such an issue. The idea is sometimes referred to in the press as a regional grid.

In simple terms, the idea is to create a collaboration of several states, including California, that would be able to easily sell energy back and forth across state lines and throughout the west.

Wind turbinesThe folks who really love this idea think that it will resolve an interesting problem: To make sure that California solar and wind companies have enough customers—a big enough market—to buy their renewable energy at the main times of the day solar and wind power are pumping out electrons.

So everyone who loves renewable energy should just get on board this peace train, right?

Wellllll, not exactly. As it turns out, without the right kinds of boundaries and rules, this great idea can go quickly amok.

For instance, as Sierra Club’s experts on how energy companies and markets in the west work note, it’s very possible that if not designed the right way, a regional grid could result in “resource shuffling.” That is, it might actually encourage certain coal-heavy power companies to extend the life of their plants in one part of the west and shift the renewable energy to California. Or it could fire up more natural gas plants here and in other states.

All that extended and increased use of fossil fuel plants to accommodate the ability of California’s “excess” renewable energy to flow east and the Interior West’s supply to flow to California can add up to more localized air pollution, especially for communities already struggling with dirty air, and more greenhouse gas pollution. That equals human health and planet health impacts.

There are also economic risks that cut to the core of whether California will build a more equitable economy.

California has been steadily adding renewable energy to its energy mix. This has meant lots of new jobs building big and small renewable energy generation. And not just any jobs, but good-paying jobs. Many of these jobs are held by union labor and come with good healthcare benefits and retirement plans. These are jobs that demonstrate that you can have a clean environment and a living wage.

What happens if California’s single-state transmission operator suddenly becomes a multi-state entity with states that have cheap labor, cheap land and anti-union laws? Thanks to legislation passed a couple of years ago, the biggest proponent of regionalization, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) hired a consultant to tackle that question.

The answer was that regionalization could likely result in the loss of 110,000 jobs in the energy sector in California. That’s almost as many jobs as there are people in Berkeley.

There’s also an interesting political risk.

There’s a guy in the White House now who doesn’t like—well, apparently actually hates—renewable energy and just about anything California stands for. He appoints the majority of commissioners on the federal body that sets the rules about how RTOs operate their electricity transmission.

If California, which through the CAISO is essentially its own RTO, joins with other states in a new RTO, that new RTO will have a governing board made up of people from the other states. If the federal body comes up with a new rule that California disagrees with, but the other states in the RTO agree with, what happens? Does California just leave the RTO and is that even possible?

Is now really the time to dive into this kind of risk?

These questions and issues are among those that Sierra Club staff and activist volunteers have been asking and raising for the better part of the three years that the legislature has been considering regionalization.

Throughout that time, we have been unable to resolve our concerns. That’s partly because opening up our state to a regional market simply means accepting certain risks. We aren’t willing to put our full faith in the market to deliver an equitable energy economy that benefits–rather than harms–polluted communities and that provides long-term, good-paying jobs. We remain genuinely concerned about exposing California to the undue weirdness of the supreme tweeter’s appointees’ whims.

And that’s why we have most recently opposed Assembly Bill 813, a bill crafted in the open, but not crafted well enough to protect California from the worst potential effects of regionalization. You can read our explanation of our opposition via the letter we signed onto with consumers and labor.

Dozens of other groups have opposed this bill.

But the governor supports it and spent some time the night before it came up for its first committee vote last week calling legislators on the committee and urging them to support the bill. It passed that committee and on Tuesday will face the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill is based on an interesting idea. But it doesn’t provide the protections we need for the environment, public health and the economy.

We can do better than this. We must do better than this.

That’s why we oppose AB 813 and again, for the third time in three years, find ourselves fighting a wonky, inside-baseball issue.

Sincerely,

Kathryn Phillips
Director

Thank you for being a part of our work! 

You may securely donate online or by sending a check to Sierra Club California at 909 12th Street, Suite 202, Sacramento, CA 95814.

Additional Reading

  • Analysis by Indivisible SF
  • California’s dream of a regional power market faces the risks of a Trump FERC: Can a proposed regional plan’s protections for state policy be trumped by federal authority? (wapo)
  • California Should Not Risk Its Clean Energy Future on Extreme Strategies (Sandiegofreepress)
  • San Diego 350 Climate Change Action Group (sandiego350.org)

 

 

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