Library filed under Energy Policy from California
In California, the titles given to ballot initiatives can mean everything to their success or failure. Which may be why Proposition 7, which goes by the name "The Solar and Clean Energy Law of 2008," seemed like a surefire winner in summertime polls. ...But renewable-energy companies, environmental groups and the Democratic Party - virtually every constituency pushing to wean the state off fossil fuels - have joined hands with the major utilities, the business establishment and the Republican Party to oppose it. They argue that it is loaded with loopholes and upends a system that is already working, replacing it with one that is problematic at best.
Two of the world's richest men bankroll alternative-energy initiatives on the November ballot. Each is opposed by some of the very champions of those alternatives. Adding to the confusion, both measures carry "renewable energy" in their titles. Political commentators aren't helping much, naming Proposition 7 "Big Solar," and Proposition 10 "Big Wind." But the former promises more power from renewable sources generally, not just the sun. The latter would actually invest more public money in natural gas than wind farms.
Californians will vote on two ballot initiatives this fall that at first glance would seem shoo-ins for approval in a state long associated with environmental activism. The first would require utilities to generate half their electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar. The second would provide rebates of up to $50,000 for the purchase of alternative-fuel vehicles through a $5 billion bond.
So will his plan work? Energy analysts say parts of it seem plausible, other parts don't and the timetable is probably unrealistic. It also would substitute one expensive fossil fuel for another. ...Hundreds of thousands of windmills would need to be installed throughout the country's plains, at a price that Pickens estimates between $750 billion and $1 trillion. New transmission lines - worth $64 billion to $128 billion - would be needed to carry all that power to cities. The price alone is daunting, although Pickens notes the money would stay in the United States rather than flow to overseas oil producers.
California, whose laws require it to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010, has its eyes on Oregon's growing wind power industry. "They're certainly trying to grab it everywhere they can," said Lee Beyer, chairman of the Oregon Public Utility Commission. ...California already imports hydropower in the summer; Oregon and Washington take deliveries from California generators in cold winter months. But Oregon and Washington also face clean energy laws and want the energy too.
California is the big dog in the fight, reaching into the Northwest to buy large amounts of wind power from Columbia Gorge projects. Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and San Francisco's Pacific Gas & Electric are among those securing long-term contracts for hundreds of megawatts of wind power in Oregon and Washington. "They're certainly trying to grab it everywhere they can," said Lee Beyer, chairman of the Oregon Public Utility Commission, which regulates the state's large utilities. The motivation behind California's quest? A rigorous law that says renewable energy must account for 20 percent of electricity sales by 2010.
Southern California Edison has signed a contract with an energy company to build a 909-megawatt wind farm in north-central Oregon, which would provide enough electricity for about 600,000 homes, according to Vanessa McGrady, a spokeswoman for the utility. The utility already gets about 16 percent of its energy from renewable sources and has signed contracts that will soon move that number to 20 percent, officials said.
Wind power off California's coast is now just a thought among power developers, and there are no concrete plans to erect turbines at sea. But optimism is fueled by NASA and university studies indicating wind over waters off picturesque Cape Mendocino is strong and consistent enough to become one of the nation's best sources of electricity. Offshore wind and wave technologies are promising, but they're untried. They also raise concerns about potential damage to the coast's prized vistas and fish industry.
The city is opposing a green power initiative on November's ballot that would mandate that a set percentage of a utility's power be generated with renewable power. Phyllis Currie, the head of Pasadena Water and Power, estimates that the initiative, called Proposition 7, could raise water and power rates in the city by 35 percent to 40 percent. "It would mean we could be mandated to bring on renewable resources much faster than we need them, have the transmission capacity for them, or can afford to pay for them," Currie said at last week's City Council meeting.
Officials with the utility, which serves 4 million residents, project it will have to pay $700 million a year in fees for burning coal under the cap-and-trade system being considered. That will divert money it now spends on expanding energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, said David Nahai, the DWP's general manager. ...Southern California Democrats, who are some of the most outspoken advocates for reducing greenhouse gases, are supporting their coal-dependent utility. They say Los Angeles can wean itself off coal faster if the city-run utility doesn't have to pay a price to pollute. Instead, they say it should be allowed to spend its money on programs that curb emissions, such as meeting energy efficiency and renewable energy goals.
California's big electrical utilities may miss the state's deadline for increasing their use of renewable power if Congress doesn't extend tax credits for new solar plants and wind farms, the head of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said Friday. Like all California utilities, San Francisco's PG&E has been scrambling to sign contracts with renewable-power developers. State law requires that by the end of 2010, 20 percent of the electricity each utility sells must come from renewable sources. But Peter Darbee, PG&E's chief executive officer, said many developers have already warned him that their projects may fall through if Congress doesn't extend tax credits due to expire at the end of the year.
When it unveiled its Sunrise Powerlink project three years ago, San Diego County's electric utility warned that rolling blackouts like those that swept California during the 2000-01 electricity crisis could return to the region in 2010 without the new power line. Now, because of state delays in evaluating the $1.5 billion project, that high-voltage transmission line ---- even if it is eventually approved ---- won't be available to help meet the county's peak summer demand for electricity in either 2010 or 2011, utility officials say. ...Bill Powers, an activist and engineer from San Diego who has been fighting Sunrise, maintains there is another option: Ship the power west via an existing line in Baja California and north on wires that connect Tijuana with San Diego. "You've got a lot of options here that don't necessarily involve building any new transmission," Powers said.
Gitmo and guns are getting all the press. But energy mavens are talking about another recent far-reaching - but little noted - U.S. Supreme Court decision on the California energy crisis: It took them seven years but they finally figured it out. The revisionist part of the story is well known: Big bad oil traders like Enron gamed the market and drove up energy costs fifteen-fold. ... But the Supreme Court turned this conventional wisdom on its ear and said there may have been misconduct by energy sellers, but no one ever showed that caused the crisis.
The U.S. Supreme Court is about to make its first decision on the worst energy crisis in American history: The California energy crisis of 2000-01. The legal repercussions of this decision could change the way energy is bought and sold in America for generations. For good or bad. As a former member of the California Legislature when this disaster of a law was passed unanimously (yes, I voted for it), I saw first-hand how bad regulators turned this consensus law into such an epic disaster. ...As a state legislator in California when this law was passed, I've seen first-hand how much damage this law - and even more importantly, its implementation - has done, and could continue to do if the Supreme Court does not reverse the Ninth Circuit.
In a setback for San Diego Gas & Electric Co.'s controversial transmission line, state regulators Friday ordered that a draft report examining the Sunrise Powerlink's environmental impacts be expanded to include new information about a Mexico wind power project. The four-page ruling by California Public Utilities Commissioner Dian Grueneich and Administrative Law Judge Steven Weissman also directs the agency that runs the state power grid to recalculate the economic benefits of Sunrise and project alternatives. The ruling marked the second time in a year that the finish line for the $1.5 billion project has been pushed back.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has under contract all of the renewable power it needs to meet state mandates by 2010, if the promised power systems can be built in time. It's a big if. Expiring tax credits, the lag in building utility-scale renewable energy and increased competition for renewable power sources are potential roadblocks for the Northern California utility and the state's two other major utilities. ...Another issue for PG&E and the other utilities is that costs are rising 20 percent per year for renewable power.
Speculators have filed applications to develop more than 1 million acres of desert in Southern California with solar, wind and geothermal power plants, setting up a classic clash over land use with environmentalists and off-road enthusiasts. They have submitted at least 130 proposals with the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees all of the territory, in recent years and especially since 2007. The interest is so hot that even if many of the projects fall through, the remaining ones would change the look of the arid landscape. ... "We have worked for decades to protect the desert. . . . Let's not trash what we've saved," said Elden Hughes, who has worked with the Sierra Club and other environmental groups for decades.
It's not a question of whether the state should pursue clean-air strategies -- but rather which ones, and at what cost. Who stands to save money and who stands to pay more? Is nuclear power part of the solution? ...The solar-power industry already lags far behind wind in Texas, which recently leapfrogged over California to become the largest wind-power-generating state in the nation. And many more wind turbines are expected ...solar power enjoys several advantages over wind -- advantages that increases the value of sun power for those paying the bills. For instance, because the wind typically stops blowing during the middle of hot summer days, Texas won't get much use from those expensive new transmission lines when it needs the power the most. Obviously, that's not a problem with solar. Wind also presents tough -- and sometimes expensive -- technical challenges. Because wind turbines will stop spinning without a moment's notice, engineers at the power grid must sometimes have more expensive standby power ready and waiting.
Should two Arizona billionaires tell California, arguably the nation's greenest state, how to run its electricity business? They're going to try. University of Phoenix founder John Sperling and his son, Peter, are backing a ballot initiative that would force the state to more than quadruple its production of solar, wind and other alternative energy sources by 2025. But the state's major alternative-energy companies and environmental groups say the Solar and Clean Energy Act of 2008 is poorly drafted and riddled with loopholes, and they plan to oppose it. "It could slam the brakes on renewable energy development in the state," asserts a letter signed by the California Solar Energy Industries Assn., the American Wind Energy Assn., labor unions and environmentalists.
Green power for Marin is a concept that has merit along with a loyal and growing fan base. But before the concept becomes a reality, it needs broad public support. ...One important caveat: While the local authority would sign contracts with green power suppliers, there is no way to promise that green juice actually flows to homes in Marin. Once electricity is added to the grid, it all gets mixed together - like water in a reservoir fed by many streams. Most of Marin's green power would be generated outside Marin. What the local power authority is actually doing is increasing the demand for green energy, which will, in turn, lead to increases in the supply of green power. At least that's the theory. ...We urge county officials and green power supporters to put an advisory initiative on the November ballot.