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Legislative effort to reorganize California’s electricity grid dies

A California bill that would have created a new organization to run electricity grids across the West died in the legislative session’s waning hours Friday, as Sacramento lawmakers feared sharing control with coal-dependent states.

Despite strong support from Gov. Jerry Brown, the bill died before it was brought to the Senate floor, as legislators worried it would undermine California’s efforts to fight climate change.

The bill, AB813, was part of a long-running effort to integrate grid operations across Western states into one unified market.

“AB 813 will not be moved to the Senate Floor for a vote this year,” said Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego. “We will continue this important discussion next year.”

The Legislature’s failure to pass SB813 drew criticism from Brown, who said “it is imperative” that a regional grid is created “at the earliest possible date.”

“Without a regional grid, renewable energy cannot expand in an integrated and efficient manner, nor can California continue its climate leadership,” Brown said in a statement.

While the power lines across the Western states are connected, 38 separate organizations run their own portions. The California Independent System Operator, a nonprofit corporation based in Folsom, manages most of the Golden State’s grid.

The corporation, however, has argued for years that a single, multistate grid organization would be more efficient than the current balkanized system.

And many renewable power advocates see a regional grid organization as a way to increase the use of solar and wind power across the West. California produces more solar electricity than it needs on many days, and a unified market would facilitate sales of that electricity to neighboring states. Similarly, California would have easier access to wind power generated beyond its borders.

Critics, however, fear sharing control of California’s wires with other states that may have very different climate and energy policies, including states such as Wyoming and Utah that mine coal and burn it in their power plants.

Critics also worry that a new, multistate grid organization would be more vulnerable to interference from the federal government, which under President Trump has grown hostile to climate action. Although the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission already oversees the California Independent System Operator, the state’s governor appoints the operator’s board.

Adam Scow, the state director of Food & Water Watch said lawmakers made the right move for consumers by ensuring the state doesn’t cede control over its electricity grid.

“Californians suffered greatly from the electricity deregulation of the 1990s and are still paying the costs of excessive power plants and energy speculation today,” Scow said. “The Senate leadership was wise to not subject California to another deregulation scheme that would’ve empowered the Trump administration to stick California with more coal and fracked gas.”