Heap of California climate, energy bills touted as ‘message’ to Trump

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 6, 2017

California lawmakers are poised to enact a slew of clean energy and climate laws in the next two weeks that are partly motivated by fear of federal rollbacks.

State lawmakers are positioning themselves as the counterpoint to the Trump administration with a package of bills to enshrine Obama-era environmental laws in state code and preserve federal data on climate change and other environmental issues, as well as a bill to increase the state’s renewable portfolio standard.

Supporters of those measures are pushing for their passage by Sept. 15, the last day of California’s legislative session.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to send a clear message to Washington that with or without their help, California will continue to lead on this critical issue,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León (D) of S.B. 100, a bill that would increase the RPS and set a further target of 100 percent “zero-carbon” electricity by 2045.

As well as S.B. 100, de León is backing a “Preserve California” package of bills that would preserve last year’s versions of the Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Endangered Species Act and other federal laws as the baseline standard that state and local agencies have to meet.

The bills — S.B. 49, S.B. 50, and S.B. 51 — would also direct the state’s environmental protection secretary to preserve scientific data and other information that, “in the secretary’s opinion, are at risk of censorship or destruction by the federal government.”

The cost of preserving such information and making it available to the public is estimated at $125,000 — a relative bargain, state lawmakers say. “When put up against the risk to the country as a whole if scientific data were purged by the federal government, this seems like a relatively small cost,” said the sponsor of S.B. 51, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D), in a hearing last week. “Fake news, fake this, fake that, but we need science.”

Coming on top of the extension of the state’s cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases in July, these bills and a spate of others addressing electric vehicles and electricity will further California’s environmentally progressive reputation, a clean energy advocate said.

The current legislative session “will be looked back on by the history books,” said Danny Kennedy, managing director of the state-affiliated nonprofit California Clean Energy Fund. “California is very good at setting these fairly stretchy-sounding, ambitious goals and then exceeding every one of them.”

Increasing the renewable portfolio standard from 50 percent to 60 percent by 2030, as S.B. 100 would do, would be relatively painless for utilities and customers, some observers predict. The state’s three large investor-owned utilities already have enough renewable energy under contract to meet their existing 50 percent target, thanks to the growth of municipally owned electricity agencies — known as community choice aggregators, or CCAs — that are chipping away at the amount of energy that investor-owned utilities need to buy.

Still to be determined is how much more renewables would be needed to meet the 60 percent target, who would buy them, and whether they would be traditional utility-scale renewables, or community-sized, in keeping with some CCAs’ plans to build local generation.

“I think it is going to be a mix,” said Laura Wisland, a senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “S.B. 100 isn’t prescribing the pathway at this point; it’s setting the table for the conversation we need to have.”

Solar advocates say the bill would have an immediate effect and would encourage utilities to take advantage of the federal production and investment tax credits for renewable energy that are currently set to expire in 2020 and ramp down through 2022, respectively. “It is going to be a boost to the utility-scale market, and one that we need,” said Brandon Smithwood, director of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association. “If California policymakers leave a bunch of federal tax credits on the table because we wait to procure, I think it’d be a shame, particularly given California’s leadership’s interest in kind of being a point-counterpoint to Washington, D.C., these days.”

Electric vehicles, cap-and-trade revenue, electric grid

Lawmakers are also floating a number of proposals to increase electric vehicle adoption, which has been lagging behind state targets. A.B. 1184, by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D), would pour up to $3 billion into the state’s EV rebate program over the next 12 years in an attempt to meet the existing target of 1.5 million EV sales by 2025. Other EV-related bills that are still active include A.B. 193, which would extend the rebate program to apply to used electric vehicles and batteries, and A.B. 1082, to authorize utilities to install charging stations at public schools.

Also pending is the disbursement of $1.5 billion in proceeds from the cap-and-trade auctions. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) put out his spending plan Thursday, proposing to devote more than $600 million to clean transportation, including $140 million for vehicle rebates. Brown also wants to spend $2.5 million to establish a climate and clean energy research program at the University of California.

Although all bills had to pass out of fiscal committees by Friday, they could still be revised to address entirely new topics, a process known as “gut and amend.” That happened to A.B. 813, by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D), which was amended Thursday to allow utilities to procure renewable energy faster than the RPS targets in order to take advantage of federal renewable energy tax credits. It also would address a burgeoning issue related to CCAs by allowing utilities to recover the costs of renewables purchases from departing customers.

Another part of the discussion that could still be fleshed out this year, observers say, is the broadening of California’s electricity grid to encompass other Western states, a concept known as grid regionalization. Environmental groups, power generators, labor unions and utilities have varying views on the benefits of regionalization. Some argue that increasing electricity trading with neighboring states is essential to balancing California’s increasing glut of midday solar power, but others say it would allow power plant construction jobs to leave the state and could give other states — and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — more power over decisions affecting California utilities.

A regionalization bill might start the process of changing the governance of the state’s grid operator, the California Independent System Operator, and set out the conditions under which California would join a wider ISO, predicted Jan Smutny-Jones, CEO of the Independent Energy Producers Association, a trade group that represents independent renewable and fossil-fueled generators in California.

“We’ve had crazier years, and we’ve had slower years,” he said. “I wouldn’t put this on either end of those extremes, but there’s still a lot of potential energy-related legislation that can be taken up between now and Sept. 15.”