SPECIAL REPORT: Schwarzenegger’s green dream for California 

California is well-known as a generator of new ideas. One is the dream of outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a majority of the California Legislature to move the state into a green future.

Under this dream, carbon-based fuels would be sharply reduced in favor of battery power, which would be recharged through renewable electricity generation, especially wind and solar power.

“The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is spurring California legislators and conflicting interest groups to settle past differences and adopt the nation’s toughest renewable energy law to reduce the state’s dependence on oil and serve as a model for other states,” reported the Los Angeles Times.

The main legislation is SB722, by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto. It passed the state Assembly on Aug. 31. It was headed for passage in the Senate, but “we ran out of time,” a spokesman for Simitian’s office said. All California bills must be passed by Aug. 31.

But Simitian is expected to reintroduce the bill when the next legislature convenes in early December.

Simitian’s  bill would mandate that, by 2020, renewable electricity in California must be 33 percent of all that is generated. Unlike previous bills on this issue, according to Simitian, “Senate Bill 722 does not require utilities to reach the goal at any cost, however. If the California Public Utilities Commission determines that no reasonably priced renewable energy is available, a utility will be permitted to postpone meeting the deadline.”

Currently, no California electricity producer meets even the existing 20 percent goal for the end of 2010. Southern California Edison comes closest, at 17 percent.

In vetoing similar legislation in 2009, the governor called it too “complex.” However, he supports the 33 percent renewables goal by 2020. Indeed, his state environmental legacy will be strong if he signs into law some form of SB722, while defeating Proposition 23 in November.

Prop. 23 effectively would repeal AB32, his law to combat global warming.

At a recent alternative fuels conference, Schwarzenegger said, “One needs only to look to the Gulf of Mexico and the tragedy and what happens when you just rely on oil. It is shameful how desperate and how dependent we have become on fossil fuels.”

The governor’s chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, sometimes called the “little governor” for her influence over the action-movie star, said of renewables legislation, “I’m very optimistic. There’s always been a consensus around the goal. It’s simply a matter of identifying what the obstacles are in the implementation.”

“The big issue is: Is it deliverable power?” asked Robert Michaels when I talked to him about renewables. He’s a professor of economics at Fullerton State University and senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research.

He testified on energy policy twice this year before Congress. “You can talk about trading credits. But you still will have to operate your local system,” Michaels said, adding that “the politics of wind” involves federal subsidies for wind power.

In Texas, this has meant that renewable energy companies actually pay to put their power on the electricity grid, thus bumping off cheaper power from nonrenewable sources.

Michaels pointed to his testimony on June 16 before the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology, where he said:

“Texas’ wind capacity is mostly far from load centers, and its power is priced by market bidding. As they compete for access to the constrained transmission lines, prices are bid to lower levels. In Texas, however, those prices are quite frequently becoming negative, 14 percent of all hours in 2008. ...

“Gas marketer Bentek Energy examined a seeming paradox in Texas and Colorado: Operating data showed how wind’s variability meant that coal units had to make many quick output adjustments, and that those adjustments were responsible for the added pollution.

“Bentek’s controversial conclusion was that the total load in the area could have been produced with lower total emissions had the wind units never existed.”

If the California Legislature passes a new version of SB722 in December, Schwarzenegger could sign it into law by the time he leaves office. Or the next governor, either Democrat Jerry Brown or Republican Meg Whitman, could sign it next year.

And if Schwarzenegger becomes energy czar under President Obama, as some have speculated, the forced use of inefficient renewables could be another California fad that spreads across the country, and the world.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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