SACRAMENTO >> A pair of late-hour bills would pave the way for California to make a sweeping change to its power grid, linking it to other states and allowing new electricity exports and imports.
The rushed legislation, introduced Friday by Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, would overhaul rules for entering energy-sharing agreements with other western states. It comes with a flurry of end-of-session environmental bills and may be negotiated with a “100 percent clean energy” bill carried by Senate Leader Kevin de Leon.
Environmental groups have lined up against the measure, saying the process is rushed and could force clean energy generators to unfairly compete with cheaper coal and gas power plants. The proposal also has alarmed open-government advocates concerned about the lack of public debate on a complex and critical policy matter.
But supporters, including Gov. Jerry Brown, argue that a regional power grid will bring costs down for consumers and promote the growth of renewable energy across the West. The idea is to make it easier for California to import wind energy from western states like Wyoming, and to export excess solar energy.
“The goal of regionalizing the grid,” said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown, “is to lower consumer costs and greenhouse gas emissions and improve electricity reliability and renewable energy development.”
Westrup said the governor’s office did not have a comment on Senate Bill 100, the measure introduced by de Leon, which would commit California to generating all of its electricity from renewable and carbon-free sources by 2045.
Lawmakers and energy regulators have studied and debated a regional approach to electricity distribution in the last few years. Holden’s measures, Assembly Bill 726 and Assembly Bill 813, would charge state grid operators to come up with a plan for a multi-state power authority. A decision on regionalizing the grid could come as early as the end of 2018.
“This is something that could certainly be a game changer in the western energy market,” said Frank Wolak, professor of economics at Stanford University.
Many other states have banded into regional energy agreements, he said. Regional authorities can bring a greater mix of energy resources and improve system reliability.
Wolak said that the new proposal lacked details, and lawmakers and regulators would have to balance whether the proposal ultimately would be favorable to the state.
Several environmental groups immediately stepped up against the bill, including the Sierra Club of California and the California Environmental Justice Alliance.
Kathryn Phillips, director of the Sierra Club of California, said the organization was not opposed to a regional grid, but was concerned about lack of public input into the bill.
“This is being jammed through,” she said. “The timing is wrong. The substance is wrong.”
The measure does not ensure that greenhouse gas emissions would decrease, and fails to safeguard against water pollution and habitat loss associated with mining and fracking, Phillips wrote in a letter to lawmakers.
Mario De Bernardo, a lobbyist for the non-profit Northern California Power Agency, said the proposal could force newer, cleaner gas-burning plants in California to compete against cheap, coal-burning plants in other states.
The power agency, which includes Palo Alto and Santa Clara as member cities, has invested $400 million in a state-of-the art Lodi Energy Center. “That makes us extremely vulnerable,” he said.
Both bills will be considered on the final week of the legislative session, which ends Friday.
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