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.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Untainted Enviros Do Exist!

Based on the spin coming from the No on Prop 7 campaign, one would think that every enviro in the state is running scared from Prop. 7. It’s not too surprising though. $24 million (so far) in Big Utility money can buy an industrial-strength megaphone. So I was glad to see that a coherent description of the proposition by an environmental law expert found its way to the surface.

A preview:

Prop. 7 is not a meaningless mandate. It contains a number of tools for achieving much higher levels of renewables, following a “big carrot” approach more than a “big stick” tactic.
The first big carrot provided is a “feed-in tariff” for any size renewable energy project. Under this feed-in tariff, similar to the federal
Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, or PURPA, that was largely eviscerated by the 2005 Energy Policy Act, utilities that are behind on their renewable energy obligations must buy power from renewable energy facilities at the market price for electricity. PURPA was responsible for more than 10,000 megawatts of cogeneration and renewable energy projects coming online in California in the 1980s and ‘90s, so this part of Prop. 7 promises to be highly effective.

The article, written by Tam Hunt, the Energy Program Director and lawyer for the California Environmental Council goes on to explain that his organization is endorsing Prop. 7 because

If California is to make the necessary transition from fossil fuels, we will need the tools provided by Prop. 7. And if we are to lead the nation — as has been our historic role — we will need Prop. 7 to lead the way. The Energy Commission conducted a review of the state’s renewable energy laws in 2006 and made a number of recommendations. Prop. 7 adopts almost all of those recommendations.

See the full article here.

Tam, incidentally, lectures on renewable energy law at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, the dean of which - Dr. Ernst von Weizsaker Ph.D - also supports Prop 7. So what do the environmental groups opposed to Prop. 7 see in the initiative that the likes of Dr. von Weizsaker, Dr. Don Aiken (original proponent of CA’s RPS), and Dr. Yogi Goswami, Ph.D. (past president of the International Solar Energy Society) all seem to be missing?

For fun, I decided to do a little cross check of PG&E donations to the ‘environmentalists’ on the No on 7 site and noticed:

Acterra: Action for a Sustainable Earth received a 2006 PG&E Grant of $100,000.

San Jose Conservation Core received a 2006 PG&E Grant of $10,000, a 2005 PG&E Grant of $7,500, and a 2004 PG&E Grant of $22,500, totalling $40,000 over three years.

The CA League of Conservation Voters received a 2007 PG&E Grant of $12,500, a 2006 PG&E Grant of $5,000, and a 2005 PG&E Grant of $5,000, totalling $22,500 over three years.

Compare that to the PG&E contributions to the California Environmental Council - $0.

So back to the original question – what are the enviros who oppose Prop. 7 seeing in the initiative that all the climate scientists and renewable energy lawyers are missing? Your guess is as good as mine, but I am going with MONEY.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Cozy Relations b/t NRDC and PG&E and Sempra and Edison and and and...

Jeez, day one on the blog and there is already so much to write about. Someone emailed me an article from Greenwire discussing the NRDC – PG&E connection. Cavanagh apparently ‘bristled’ at the accusation that they had ever taken money from the Big Utilities (subscription required).

And the coziness charge? "It's absurd," Cavanagh said. "NRDC is fiercely independent from the utility industry and often sues it."

I believe that in any campaign you can expect proponents of their position to express themselves in strong terms. Let’s explore this phrase – “fiercely independent’ and see if it holds up.

I started a little color-coded chart below. This is just some of the groups and a partial list of their board memberships – I’ll add to it in the coming days. But just from looking at the three ‘environmental’ groups below, you see a clear pattern – their board memberships are composed of – you guessed it – former and current executives of the Big Utilities and the ‘environmental’ groups that are coming out against Prop. 7. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this yet but the No on Prop. 7 campaign is funded 100% by the Big Utilities - $22.5 million so far. True story.

CA Foundation on the Environment and the Economy
Board of Directors
· NRDC, Sheryl Carter - Vice Chairman
· Southern California Edison, CEO, Alan Fohrer
· Environmental Defense, Thomas Graff
· Union of Concerned Scientists, Amy Lynd Luers
· PG & E Sr. Vice President, Nancy McFadden
Contributions Received from Utilities
· PG & E - $40,000 (2006)

Alliance to Save Energy
Board of Directors
· NRDC President, Frances Beinecke – ASE BOD
· Southern California Edison, John Fielder
Contributions Received from Utilities
· PG & E - $80,000 (2005 – 2006)

Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies
Board of Directors
· GE Generation VP of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs (former); MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. (former), Jonathan M. Weisgall – CEERT Board President.
· Sempra/SDG&E (former); Calpine (former); Edison Mission Energy (former), Deborah Reyes, CEERT Board Member.
· Enron (former), Robert T. Boyd, CEERT Board Member.
· NRDC, Ralph Cavanagh, Board Member.
· FPL Energy, Diane Fellman, Board Member
· Environmental Defense, Karen Douglas, Board Member

Board memberships aside, let’s get back to Ralph Cavanagh and this claim of “fiercely independent." So, clearly we see that the environmental groups are governed by Big Utility executives and NRDC (which apparently has its hands in everything.) What has Ralph Cavanagh done to distance himself from the Big Utilities over the years?

Remember that little energy crisis CA experienced back in 2001? You recall - rolling black outs, price gouging by the utilities, a governor that got recalled over the whole thing? Ring any bells? I thought so. The NRDC, and Ralph Cavanagh, are overwhelmingly credited with stewarding the Big Utilities deregulation bill through the CA State Legislature. AB 1890, signed into law to deregulate the electric utilities, was largely written by John Bryson, president of California Southern Edison. John Bryson and Cavanagh are friends going back to their Yale days. Bryson, incidentally, was one of the initial founders of NRDC.

Well, CA environmentalists and consumers fought back, gathering a whopping 700,000 signatures to put Proposition 9 on the ballot in 1998, which would restore regulation of the utilities on the ballot. Obviously, and not at all unlike what is happening now with Proposition 7, the Big Utilities immediately went like gang busters on the offensive, infusing $40 million into a No on Prop 9 campaign. The environmentalists only had $1 million. After a barrage of scare tactics by the Big Utilities, threatening rate payers with out of control rate increases, Prop 9 lost badly.

And who was there to help the Big Utilities create a broad coalition of environmentalists and both the Democratic and Republican parties to oppose Prop 9? Indeed, the NRDC and Environmental Defense. But even BEFORE it got to Prop 9, who helped pass the disastrous deregulation bill AB 1890? Yup, NRDC’s own Ralph Cavanagh.

From a June, 2001 article called California's Engineered Energy Crisis and the Potential of Public Power:

There were some incentives for conservation and renewables written into AB1890, largely sponsored by the Natural Resources Defense Council, whose chief San Francisco-based energy advocate, Ralph Cavanagh, energetically supported the bill. But the provisions proved marginal at best.

Meanwhile, Cavanagh, with support from the Energy Foundation, supported the utilities at every turn, including acting as a key leader opposing the 1998 grassroots referendum aimed at repealing AB1890.

Cavanagh's role in helping to pass AB1890 and then defending it from repeal has earned him widespread outrage and contempt from the state's green/consumer groups. He still opposes legislation that would take mandated efficiency measures away from utility control and give it to municipalities.

The California experience, warns the state's green/consumer coalition, should stand as a warning to energy activists against accepting the marginal green provisions being tacked onto the Bush/Cheney energy plan.

Those “green provisions” being marginal did not stop Ralph Cavanagh from patting himself on the back. AB 1890 also allowed rate payers to be charged $28 billion. Later, Cavanagh said “I don’t have any regrets.” (SF Bay Guardian 2/14/01).

In fact, Cavanagh continued to be a cheerleader for PG &E. In 2002, the NRDC nominated PG&E, Southern California Edison, and Sempra for the Champion of Energy Efficiency award. “NRDC thanks and congratulates all who helped these companies contribute so much to the most successful statewide conservation campaign ever conducted.” – Cavanagh (PR newswire 9/23/02).

Fiercely independent, Ralph? Forgive me if I’m just not convinced. In fact, I’d say Ralph Cavanagh is a seasoned expert in organizing on behalf of the Big Utilities.


Environmentalists Flush with Big Utility Money

There was a post over at calitics the other day in response to the BeyondChron article that points out the environmental groups opposing Prop. 7 all receive substantial funds from the Big Utilities. The person posting – who admitted he does ‘some work’ for the No on 7 campaign (read – he gets paid by the Big Utilities himself) stated “ I have confirmed with several of the groups that they have not taken money from the utilities. I haven't made an exhaustive search of these records, but let's just toss that stink bomb aside.” He hopes!

A few alert readers quickly jumped all over the absurdity of this claim, noting that PG&E had given the League of Conservation Voters $22,500 between 2005-2007, and that the California Young Democrats had taken $5,000 from Sempra Energy and $1,000 from Southern California Edison. I didn’t see anyone mention the State Democratic and Republican Parties’ infusion of cash from the Big Utilities, so I’ll direct readers to check out the Secretary of State’s website. The grand total? In the last four years the Big Utilities have given $1.5 million to the Democratic Party and $1.1 million to the Republican Party.

But pointing out the money only scratches the surface when it comes to the oily trail from the Big Utilities to the select environmental groups on the No on Prop. 7 campaign. In fact, to suggest that there is no connection between the select environmental groups opposing Solar and Clean Energy and the big utilities is either naïve or willful blindness. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and individuals within its leadership, the main early opponents to Solar and Clean Energy, have a long and readily accessible history supporting deregulation, the utilities, and the myth of ‘clean coal.’ One example that I found by a simple google search of “Ralph Cavanagh” (who’s the “Energy Czar” of NRDC) is this choice quote from a book called “A Dime’s Worth of Difference” by nationally syndicated journalists Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair:

“… St. Clair notes that Ralph Cavanagh of the National Resources Defense Council testified on behalf of Enron's effort to gain control of the public utility in Oregon, Portland GE. . Contrary to Cavanagh's predictions, rates rose very high, the Enron execs bilked the ratepayers of tens of millions. Cavanaugh similarly lobbied for deregulation of utilities in California. In this new situation power grades deteriorated and of course, companies led by Enron, decided to turn off their readily available supply of electricity in order to gauge Californians. Ralph Cavanagh was given an award by Teresa Heinz Kerry's foundation, on which Ken Lay sat, for his work in "free market environmentalism." Cheney used the resulting high energy prices to push for opening ANWAR to give his oil cronies even more short term profit but that would only have the effect of reducing gas prices by a few cents for a short period.”

And this from The Center for Democracy and Media:

When President Bush awarded PG&E the Environmental and Conservation Challenge Award in 1991, Cavanagh was featured in full-page newspaper ads praising PG&E's environmental efforts. Cavanagh also produced videos on behalf of PG&E, and collaborated with PG&E personnel to coauthor an article on their conservation efforts. Cavanagh was appointed to a steering committee with Amory Lovins and others for a PG&E research project, and he generally received favorable media coverage for his "positive" and cooperative stance.


Enron used donations and its relationship with the NRDC to win approval for its purchase of the largest electric utility in Oregon, Portland General Electric (PGE). The purchase faced considerable opposition within the state. Even Oregon's Public Utility Commission opposed the takeover, warning that prices would rise, workers would lose their jobs, and the environment would not be protected. Others went further, arguing that Enron planned to sell off PGE's assets and sell its cheap hydropower to California for large profits.

NRDC's Cavanagh played a key role in pacifying some of this opposition. He negotiated a memo of understanding between Enron and Oregon environmental groups involving a transfer of $500,000 of financial support from Enron to the groups. Cavanagh repeatedly declared that Enron was a socially responsible company that could be trusted. The takeover went ahead. And sure enough, in the following two years rates went up, assets were sold and PGE's electricity made its way to California. Enron then sold the utility

What this suggests is that either – at its worst, that Ralph Cavanaugh and NRDC are shills for the Big Utilities, or at the least - that they are themselves not infallible when it comes to predicting the outcome of new energy policy. In fact, it seems outright disingenuous for the NRDC - an Enron cheerleader - to now use scare tactics eliciting fears of another energy crisis!
As to the post pointing out that the California Young Democrats is opposed to Solar and Clean Energy – it should also be mentioned that the Chair of CYD, Rocky Fernandez, is also the NRDC environment campaign coordinator and affiliated with a business group called “Environmental Entrepreneurs”, and was campaigning hard for the No on Prop. 7 side at the Democrat’s E-Board meeting in June. Maybe there is a connection, maybe there isn’t. But it’s worth pointing out.

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What's up with all the opposition to Prop. 7, the Solar and Clean Energy Act of 2008?

Why would the Democratic Party, the National Resources Defense Council, and the League of Conservation Voters all oppose Proposition 7, the Solar and Clean Energy Act of 2008 – which would require utilities to produce 50% of their electricity from CLEAN and RENEWABLE sources like WIND, GEOTHERMAL, and SOLAR by 2025? Why would supposedly credible ‘leaders’ within CA’s environmental movement go against climate change scientists, such as the very man who originally advanced a Renewable Portfolio Standard for CA, Dr. Don Aiken, who support the initiative? Not to mention in a state that prides itself on leading the way in renewable energy technologies and policies?

I struggled with these questions for weeks before I finally decided to start a little investigation of my own. I began with the question “why” and quickly began seeing that the real question should have been “who.” After a few google searches and poking around these different environmental groups’ websites, it became increasingly evident that not only do these groups opposed to Prop. 7 enjoy windfall funding from the Big Utilities (PG&E, SCE, Sempra), they are frequently staffed by former utility executives or have former utility executives on their boards of directors.
This website will unveil everything I’ve found. I trust you to be the judge on this material, but I expect you will come to many of the same conclusions I have. There’s so much information that I’ll have to update it one day at a time, but I promise it will all be posted.