Published in the Los Angeles Times, December 2, 2010
Brown May Find It's Not Easy Being Green
By Anthony York
Jerry Brown ran for governor promising to revive the economy through an aggressive expansion of California's green-energy industry — but that agenda could prove costly to consumers.
Brown wants the state to make major new investments in solar and wind power: building large-scale power plants that run on renewable resources and placing solar panels on parking-lot roofs, school buildings and along the banks of state highways. Although advocates of renewable energy tout the long-term savings of going green, billions of dollars would be required to reach the governor-elect's green-energy goals.
Nobody knows if the program would produce the "more than half a million green jobs" Brown promised during the campaign, but many experts agree that it could lead to sharply higher utility rates.
How much higher is unclear, because the eventual cost of Brown's plan would depend in part on the mix of wind, solar and other renewable energy used. Other factors may lower that estimate, said Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford. It depends on "what kind of cost savings can be realized through reducing the regulatory hurdles, it depends on how quickly we can ramp up job creation…. All of this is somewhat speculative at the moment."
But state regulators have already crunched some numbers associated with the linchpin of Brown's plan: to generate one-third of the state's power from renewable sources by 2020. That could require rate hikes of as much as 14.5%, in addition to billions of dollars in private investment, according to an analysis by the state's Public Utilities Commission.
Staff at the commission, which regulates Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric and a handful of smaller utilities and sets rates for most Californians, estimates the cost of the plan at roughly $60 billion over the next decade. That is more than state taxpayers will spend on the University of California and California State University systems combined over the same period.
Clifford said the PUC analysis is not complete.
"One of the things that estimate does not take into account is the thinning of the regulatory thicket when it comes to renewable energy," he said. "We want to simplify the process by which renewable projects can be approved."
. . .
Clifford said the jobs plan is a priority for the incoming administration but promised that Brown would be "methodical" in setting its course.
"We want to do it, but that means doing it right — studying potential effects of legislation and regulation, figuring out which rules can be streamlined and which can't, ensuring an effective oversight process that allows for reasonable progress on construction projects," said Clifford.
Notice how defensive, even apologetic Brown's spokesman is about the Green energy agenda. There is no self doubt on the part of business interests adamantly opposed to the plan:
Meanwhile, a coalition of business groups that has fought Schwarzenegger's renewable energy proposal also opposes Brown's. "There is a lot of pure cost anxiety on our side," said Dorothy Rothrock, vice president of the California Manufacturers & Technology Assn.
Schwarzenegger vetoed a 2009 bill that would have required utilities to buy a third of their electricity from renewable sources in the next decade, saying the measure relied too heavily on creating expensive new power sources within California. In his veto message, he cited the "negative impact it would have had on California's energy markets and ratepayers."
So far, big labor is supporting Brown, but only so long as Brown delivers on high-paying power plant contruction jobs:
Schwarzenegger's plan opted for more power produced outside California, which he says is cheaper. That angered labor unions eager for power-plant construction jobs as well as environmentalists who say there's no way to prove that electricity generated outside California comes from renewable energy plants.
. . .
During the gubernatorial campaign, Brown called for developing 20,000 megawatts of new, renewable energy in California. Each megawatt of power would be enough to serve up to 1,000 Southern California homes. Brown said this new green power would be at the heart of his plan to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the state.
. . .
"We totally support Jerry Brown's initiative … but you simply can't get there without" in-state renewable energy, said Scott Wetch, a lobbyist for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which supported Brown's campaign for governor.
This is a beautiful example of why California needs a green political force independent of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Our friends in the labor movement, God bless 'em, have come a long way since the "bad old days" when labor was routinely trotted out by big business to say environmentalism was bad for jobs. Unfortunately, the Democrats and their labor supporters, no less than the Republicans and their business supporters, are still organized around the old paradigmwhere "progress" is the work of big industry and big labor for the sake of short term profit. They cannot yet get their brains around the idea of building a green future with decentralized sustainable, local industry with green jobs for all, including chronically underemployed folks in inner-city neighborhoods like mine in Los Angeles.
One result of the 2010 election is that California stands out like a "green thumb" against the retro Republican wave. Greens must seize this unprecedented opportunity to go way beyond the Brown Democratic agenda and go all the way to making California a model for a new paradigmfor America and the world.