California’s dirty little green secret

A poll recently commissioned by the Ella Baker Center found that California voters strongly support major public investment to create jobs in fields that are good for the environment.  In fact, almost 75 percent of those surveyed would support a measure that fast-tracked investment in solar, wind and wave power and other projects to create jobs and clean energy.  

We have that opportunity today if we expand the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).  The RPS requires utility companies to increase their purchases of electricity from renewable resources like wind and solar by at least one percent annually, until 20 percent of their electricity sales are renewable by 2010.  Currently legislation is being considered at the State Capitol to increase the RPS to 33 percent by 2020.  

This effort has the potential to become the largest, greenest economic stimulus California has ever seen and would be funded by a public goods charge that we already pay every month on our utility bill.  The charge is suppose to go to renewable energy, but because of loopholes in the law there is no guarantee that expanding the RPS will actually benefit Californians.  

 Under the existing rules established by the California Energy Commission, utility companies can use sham paper transactions with out-of-state power generators — with NO electricity for California ratepayers. Once purchased, these “Renewable Energy Credits,” or RECs are used to satisfy the RPS requirement under the theory that the renewable power is being consumed by someone, somewhere even if it’s not in California.  

Equally disturbing to many in the environmental and social justice movements are the rules which allow utilities to “bait and switch” ratepayers and trade dirty energy for clean energy. For example, utilities could purchase RECs from a wind farm in Oregon or a solar farm in Arizona, only to take delivery of energy from a dirty coal plant in Utah. Although some might argue that transmission restraints make it difficult to deliver renewable power generated out of state back to California, using dirty fossil fuel to fill the gaps flies in the face of the State’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act, AB 32.  The Act was signed into law by Governor Schwarzenneger in 2006.

When California led the nation and first adopted the RPS program in 2002, the State Legislature spelled out the program’s three main objectives in statute:  (1) improve public health and the California environment (2) reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuel (3) create new jobs and economic development in California.   Unfortunately, the current program fails Californians on each score.  Sadly, Californian’s are paying premium energy prices, but both the green jobs and the environmental benefits can be exported out-of-state or even out-of-country.

This year the State Legislature has a chance fix these mistakes and shape California’s renewable energy future and our state’s “green economy” for years to come by enacting an intellectually honest RPS mandate that fully develops solar, geothermal, wind, and other renewable resources right here in California.  

A 33 percent RPS program would require a minimum of 20,000 megawatts of new clean power generation – helping to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and clean the air we breathe. Finally, at a time when California’s unemployment rate is over 10 percent, it is important that we work to create this new generation of clean power which would create an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 new jobs. The thriving “green economy” we’ve been hearing so much about in recent years would finally become a reality. That is, if the Legislature gets it right and puts an end to California’s dirty little green secret.

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