Let's face it - being 'green' is the new cool. But sometimes an ulterior, industry-driven motive lurks behind the 'green halo' that we trust in so-called environmental organizations. This blog is dedicated to keeping individuals and organizations who claim to be for clean, renewable energy accountable.

Monday, November 3, 2008

My Vote is YES on 7

I woke up this morning feeling like it was Christmas Eve. In just one day, there will be a pile of shiny new presents promising me a clean energy future. Tingling with excitement, I started preparing an entry for today that explains why I am voting for Proposition 7. Then, when I was toodling around on google, I discovered that the Sierra Club has posted an “explanation” of its opposition to Proposition 7. My jaw dropped several times while reading it – I have to think that either the person who wrote it never read Proposition 7 and just made up some phony facts about Proposition 7, or, they read it and made up phony facts about Proposition 7 anyway. Either way, I could stencil the alphabet in crayon on a paper napkin, and that would be more articulate than the Sierra Club’s confused and misleading explanation.

Allow me to explain:

The Sierra Club complains that Proposition 7: “…removes the penalty cap of $25 million per utility for not meeting renewable targets; sounds great until you realize that no penalty has ever been imposed.”

The Sierra Club leaves out two key elements: First, no fines have been imposed because the utilities have until 2010 to meet the Rewewables Portfolio Standard. Last time I checked, it’s still 2008. Second, Proposition 7 makes the penalties automatic, as opposed to leaving their assessment to the discretion of the Public Utilities Commission (which happens to be chaired by Michael Greevey, former CEO of Edison International and Southern Cal Edison). This is a major loophole in current law that Proposition 7 fixes.

Then Sierra Club complains that Proposition 7: "…lowers the penalty rate for utilities failing to meet renewable energy targets from 5 cents to only 1 cent per kilowatt-hour.”

But didn’t the Sierra Club already say that the penalties don’t get imposed, so removing the cap doesn’t do anything? So two paragraphs later you complain that the penalties are weakened? Well…that obvious confusion aside... You again leave out another critical point. The removal of the cap virtually guarantees that the penalties assessed for non-compliance will increase. The California Environmental Council’s energy policy director Tam Hunt explains:

“Currently, the PUC has set a penalty level of 5 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) for non-compliance, but has capped the penalty level for each year and each utility at $25 million. The Solar Act reduces the penalty amount to 1 cent per kWh, but eliminates the cap. While the cents per kWh penalty is reduced by the Solar Act, the actual effect of the Solar Act, due to its elimination of the $25 million cap for each utility, will very likely be to increase penalty amounts. For example, if PG&E is, in 2010, 5 percent behind in its annual obligations, its penalty under current law would be a maximum of $25 million,even though the uncapped amount would be about $275 million. Under the Solar Act, the penalty in this scenario would be about $55 million, more than twice what current law would allow.”

Basic math, anyone?

The Sierra Club complains that Proposition 7: “…requires regulators to consider environmental and other benefits-- up to a 10% premium-- when evaluating renewable contracts; but existing rules already do the same thing.”

First of all, WOW! That’s a hard hitting complaint. Second of all – This is the Sierra Club again being tricky and leaving out material terms from the text of Prop. 7. The independent, Legislative Analyst’s Office even pointed out this new addition to the law in their analysis of Prop 7:

"The measure makes two major changes in how the market price of electricity is defined for purposes of implementing the RPS...Second, the measure adds three new criteria to current-law requirements that the Energy Commission would need to consider when defining the market price of electricity. These criteria include consideration of the value and benefits of renewable resources.”

The Sierra Club complains that Proposition 7: “…requires city-owned utilities, or "muni's", to comply with state targets; however Sacramento and LA--the cities with the largest muni's-- have voluntarily adopted renewable targets exceeding the state mandates.”

Again, WOW! Another hard-hitting complaint. The Sierra Club would have us leave the municipally owned utilities alone (the most intense users of coal!) because some of them are making strides in converting to clean electricity generation. That makes perfect sense. No wonder the Sierra Club is, as one poster on this site observed, ‘becoming irrelevant’

But THEN, one paragraph later, the Sierra Club complains that: “…Prop. 7 proponents commonly claim, incorrectly, that Prop 7 "applies only to large utilities", as if to imply that it only goes after the big, bad boys. In fact, it would apply to utility companies of all sizes--big and small.”

Holy crap. Did this person even bother to look at the Yes on 7 website? Or read the text of the initiative? Or open a newspaper lately? This is a key, main, front and center talking point for the Yes on 7 campaign – that Prop 7 expands the RPS to include municipally owned utilities. Furthermore, since the city owned utilities are exceeding the current RPS mandate (as Sierra Club points out), then why is Prop 7 bad for them? It’s becoming more clear that the Sierra Club is talking out of both sides of its mouth on Prop. 7 because it can’t oppose Prop 7 on the merits.

The Sierra Club complains that supporters: "...argue that Prop 7 would not hurt small solar installers, because they are "excluded from Prop 7". He fails to mention, or perhaps to realize, that this "exclusion" is precisely the problem.”

Wow. (Sorry to be redundant, but this is a little incredible). First, Sierra Club, you are confusing your own talking point. You see, Prop 7 proponents never said that small providers would be excluded. Remember that one time they sued the utility-funded no on 7 campaign because THEY were (falsely) stating that Prop 7 excludes small renewable providers? Right. Because there is no language in the text of Prop 7 that excludes small providers from counting towards the RPS. This is a legal fiction concocted by the big Utilities’ lawyers. So agrees the Berkeley Center for Environmental Law and Policy and four Nobel Laureates, among many other experts in the field.

The Sierra Club complains that: "Proponents claim that the argument that Prop 7 would raise rates is "also false", even though the text of the initiative has specific allowance -- in Section 3: Purpose and Intent -- for up to a 3% rate increase, referred to as a "cap". This represents up to $1 billion in potential extra utility costs per year. Renewable energy generally costs more than electricity from conventional cheap, dirty power plants. We think it's worth the price, but it is misleading to say Prop 7 won't raise rates.”

I’m not entirely clear on what the Sierra Club intends to say in this paragraph, but what I discern is that Prop 7 can’t enforce it’s much-touted 3% cap. Well, again, this is a misunderstanding of the measure. Explained in the Hunt analysis (above):

“While the Solar Act literature discusses a "cap" on costs due to the Solar Act in order to avoid drumming up opposition by those folks who want to avoid dditional costs for renewable energy - the initiative doesn't actually impose a cap. Rather, by limiting utility obligations to those renewable energy contracts that cost no more than 10 percent above the market price referent, there is a built-in cost containment mechanism. However, if the PUC or the CEC decide they want to approve renewable energy contracts above these levels, they will be able to do so, as they can under current law within certain limitations.”

So, with all of their rationales for opposing Prop. 7 washed away simply by turning to the actual language of Prop. 7 and common sense, what other excuse does the Sierra Club have to lean on in opposing this renewable energy initiative?

The Sierra Club complains that:

“Environmental advocates tried to get sponsors to fix Prop 7, but were rebuffed.”

Now we are getting somewhere. Turf war. But the Sierra Club goes on to explain that the Sierra Club ALREADY HAS a solution, and big old Proposition 7 is going to screw it all up for them.

Says the Sierra Club:

“There are better options to Prop 7, and the Sierra Club California is working to realize them. For example: We have prepared policy recommendations for fixing the state's renewable energy laws and submitted these to the governor and key legislators and we are working for legislation that would raise the state's renewable target to 33% by 2020, a goal supported by the governor, regulators, and Democratic leadership in the state legislature.”

I keep forgetting how effective the Legislature is at getting tough measures passed. Remember that one time in 2008, when the Sierra Club and its allies had a 33% RPS by 2020 bill in the Legislature, and it dwindled to its death while no budget could get passed? Oh, or that other time, in last year’s session, when that SAME bill got killed by the Legislature? Apparently the Sierra Club’s legislative strategy is “Third time’s a charm.”

But wait, didn’t the Sierra Club say just a few paragraphs earlier in its opposition paper that the Legislature is too incompetent to muster the 2/3 vote necessary to fix even a “minor flaw?” And the Sierra Club trusts this Legislature with our energy future?

After reading this confused and inconsistent opposition paper that is posted to the Sierra Club’s homepage, I am aghast that the Sierra Club would dare accuse Prop. 7 of being poorly written. This is the most inarticulate piece of trash I have ever seen come out of a multi-million dollar organization. Clearly, Sierra Club can’t back up its opposition and is hoping its membership won’t notice the shiny “Paid for by PG&E and Southern Cal Edison” sticker at the bottom of their ads against Prop 7. But while Sierra Club has done its share of greenwashing, as I’ve written about here, this is looking to me like a turf-war/ego battle too. The proponents of Prop 7, not a part of the green in-crowd in California, dared to put forth a renewable energy measure without their blessing, and now the Sierra Club hopes Prop 7 will pay the price.

If only they would see the big picture. It’s not Proposition 7, or the financial backer Peter Sperling, who will be punished if the measure fails. It is the health and environment of California, and the future of renewable energy progress for the entire country.

Please, Solar Cali Girl followers – Vote Yes on 7!

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