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.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Campaign contributions pay off for Big Utilities

The blog has been a little quiet this week, but not because there hasn’t been plenty going on in the world of Proposition 7. Solar Cali Girl has been under the gun with deadlines at her real job.

So now that I have a minute:

Did you know between 2002 and 2008, electric utilities in California gave $13,291,877 to influence political parties and ballot measures? That, of course, doesn’t include the $27.5 million dropped by PG&E, Southern Cal Edison, and Sempra to defeat Proposition 7. Now we are talking $40,791,877.

Yeah, that's an eye-popping $40 million by the Big Utilities to influence California politics over the last seven years - 2/3rds just on defeating Prop 7 this year!

And were you aware that Pacific Gas & Electric is the 3rd largest industry-contributor to California elected officials and candidates? This isn’t money to the parties (which is included in the above amount) – this is money just to candidates and elected officials. The grand total that our legislative representatives have taken from PG&E? $973,078 this year alone. The distinguished list of utility beneficiaries that you elected to represent you can be found here.

And that's not counting the hundreds of thousands (millions, likely) doled out by PG&E to environmental groups, community groups, and various non-profits, by the Big Utilities to influence California politics and energy policy. This is most recently evidenced by the overwhelming misinformation campaign to defeat renewable energy requirements via Prop 7.

No wonder the Yes on 7 campaign just came out this internet ad:


Monday, September 29, 2008

"Enviros" chastised for fronting for utilities

In a strongly-worded letter sent to the Northern California Solar Energy Association, Dr. Donald Aitken, a former lead scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists and original proponent of the Renewable Portfolio Standard, chastises his former environmentalist colleagues for their short-sighted attempt at subterfuge of Proposition 7.

The letter, sent via email, is four pages long and makes a really important underlying point. The ‘environmentalists’ who secured the opposition from so many other groups way back before Proposition 7 even had been assigned a number, did so based largely on objections that they had to retract once scrutinized. But it didn’t matter that they could no longer make the false claims that allowed them to secure the opposition in the first place – the lies were already out in the media marketplace, and the average voter doesn’t do that much research on initiatives anyway. This, at least, is the expectation of the Big Utilities, who are greenwashing their campaign against Prop. 7, just like they greenwashed their campaign for deregulation.

Also, Dr. Aitken addresses the other underlying challenge to the campaign for clean and renewable energy and energy independence. The utilities have spent years infusing cash into the coffers of community groups, environmentalists, and both major political parties. Perhaps most disturbing is the dominance of former and current utility executives on the board memberships of “California’s leading environmental groups,” – the tag line Ralph Cavanagh uses every time he is doing the dirty work of the Big Utilities. Ralph doesn’t mention that 5 out of 7 Board Members of California’s leading environmental group the League of Conservation Voters is either a current or past executive of one of the Big Utilities opposing Proposition, or is affiliated with one of the community groups whose economic well-being depends heavily on large utility donations. That might chip away at the credibility of their opposition though, now wouldn’t it?

The Big Utilities found out at the advent of California’s energy crisis that if they greenwashed their message, they could be practically invincible at the polling place. Fortunately, now that we really are at a tipping point, and global climate scientists are frantically educating people about the short time left to make serious changes, more scientists are fighting back against the Big Utilities’ halo-embraced façade against clean and renewable energy.

Dr. Aitken breaks down the myths currently being churned out by the utilities with idiot-proof explanations. He tackles the big lies: That there is a 30 MW size restriction on who can contribute to the RPS, that rates get locked in at 10% above market place (he calls it a FALSELY FLAT lie and effortlessly explains how), and that Prop 7 will be 'costly.'

Here is the text of the letter:

“Yes, it is I (Dr. Donald Aitken, co-founder and second President of NCSEA, as well as two-time chair of ASES) who is strongly in favor of Prop. 7.

The first thing I did after being reached by the Prop. 7 supporters was to spend about two weeks in lengthy email and telephone communications with my own former colleagues in the enviornmental organizations- Alen Nogee at UCS, Ralph Cavanagh at NRDC, and many others. I also flew to California and had a nnumber of face-to-face meetings. They are still my friends, so we could speak frankly. Their uniform opposition made it a sad decision for me, but the more I talked to them, the more thoroughly convinced I became that their objections either don’t hold water, or can be overcome by adminsitrative and procedural actions following the passage of Prop. 7. Further, I remain convinced that the more aggressive goals of Prop. 7 are absolutely necessary (I daresay a minimum) in beginning to turn the world to a meaningful response that transcends the little Kyoto-type international efforts.

“It is now a correct statement that we are nearing – and perhaps have already passed – “tipping points” of the greatest potential impact to humans and to the global ecology in general. And you, an anyone else who has seen me speak in public, know that I am also convinced that a 100% renewable energy transition for California and for the nation is a perfectly feasible goal, and hence one which must be pursued aggressively, while there may still be a chance economically and environmentally.

My conclusion is that we have to abandon the incremental legislative approach and reach for more aggressive goals, while still keeping them attainable. Proposition 7, and the initiative that it supports, spells out achievable goals, while taking an important leap forward.

I am aware that the environmental organizations are putting all their eggs in the basket of the pending legislation for a 33% goal by 2020 (the same legislation that was killed by the utilities last year). I am also aware that the utilities are against this year’s version too. It is unacceptable to me to even consider putting all of our eggs in a basket which may vanish yet again, leaving us with one more year lost in meeting the challenge of global warming and climate change, and the opportunity to jump-start a much more effective and sure response.

To their objections:

Initially the environmental organizations loudly proclaimed that Prop 7 would allow municipal trash burners to qualify for the RPS. They had to withdraw that objection after they were told to read Prop 7 more carefully, but only after they had gone public with that objection.

Then came loud objections that reducing the penalty on the utilities for non-compliance from 5 cents/kWh to 1 cent/kWh would completely remove the utility incentive to meet the goals. But after they were told to do the math, including the impact from the removal of the $25 million cap that is presently imposed on the utilities in association with the present 5 cent/kWh penalty, they discovered that Prop 7 actually provides for a much more expensive and onerous penalty schedule on the utilities, so they withdrew that objection, too, but again only after their initial objections had been tossed around in public.

My interpretation at that time was that the opponents were being pretty hasty and sloppy, indicative (to me) that there must be a much deeper underlying reason for their opposition, and the particulars of the initiative were at least in part some sort of cover. Now to the big ones that are domination what I find to be a dismaying misleading of the public in the TV ads (funded by the utilities, but fronting with representatives of the environmental and solar community.

What has Gary Gerber and others in the business of installing systems smaller than 30MW so upset is the allegation that Prop 7 would rule them all out from being able to participate in meeting the more aggressive goals of Prop 7. They have a legal opinion that alleges to support that. The supporters of Prop 7 have an equally reputable legal opinion that denies that. When the environmental organizations that challenged that very portion of Prop 7 in the Sacramento Superior court, the judge of that Superior court ruled that there was not sufficient evidence in Prop 7 to support that allegation! Yet, it goes on, and on, for it is a very effective tactic to scare the Hell out of Gary and others like him.

The definition of “eligible renewable” under the initiative wording is maintained as presently defined in California law, which includes renewables of all major types and all sizes. In a separate portion of the initiative, incentives are offered to stimulate the construction of large systems (greater than 30 MW) in desert area where they would be feasible (provided they meet all environmental requirements, including the Desert Protection Act.) Those incentives include possible “fast-track” approval, if the initial three month review does not show any major potential environmental issues. (If that initial environmental review reveals problems, the process reverts to the present 12 -18 months procedure, so there is no compromising the ultimate environmental integrity of the projects.) This will be a great benefit to the developers of renewable less than 30 MW from continuing to ply their important roof-top trade, and from addling their achievements to meeting the RPS goals.

The other objective appearing in the TV ads is how ‘expensive’ this would be, and what a major ‘hit’ this would make on ratepayers. As I recall, the person in the ad states that the utilities would be ‘required to buy ALL of their generation at 10% above market costs.’ THIS IS A FLATLY FALSE ACCUSATION! The initiative requires utilities to sign contracts with renewable energy providers in good faith if they fall within 10% above market cost for generation, but only until they have met their 2% added generation requirements with renewables that year, but not for any more generation than that.

Let us do the math. Suppose the utilities meet all goals, so that, by 2025, 50% of their electricity generation comes from renewable, and suppose that they indeed had to sign all of those new renewables (that is 30% more than the present 2010 California law requires) at a premium of 10%. (Ridiculous, in view of present costs of wind, for example.) Then, in this scenario, 30% of the utility 2025 generation would have cost 10% more, which would be a 3.3% hit on the generation portion of a ratepayers bill. But generation is only about half of their bill, so in reality, this would be half of a 3.3% hit, or a 1.75% increase in their bill. This makes it too expensive to fund California’s renewable energy future?? Either the environmental organizations have again not done their mathematical homework, or they are willing to stand by false TV claims to scare people into voting against Prop 7. My goodness, the rate increases that are going to result from the residual fossil-fuel portions of utility generation portfolios will have long swamped that paltry figure, so that I doubt it will even be noticed.

The initiative language, by the way, allows for up to a 3% hit on 2025 utility bills, or almost twice as great a figure as I derived above, to provide a cushion for the absorption of other costs, such as procedural and staffing changes as some of the present CPUC responsibilities are handed off to the CEC, to put California’s renewable electricity future at more of an arms-length from the utilities.

I am aware that the solar industry also objects to the initiative’s requirements that “prevailing wages” be paid to those who work on and install solar systems. Again, this applies to the large (greater than 30 MW) systems, and reflects the convictions of the drafters of the initiative that meeting the responsibility to provide a living support through prevailing wages for those who work on the large systems is a moral obligation. This does not apply to the installations of their smaller systems.

The opponents feel that the utilities have too many “outs” and would not actually have to meet the initiative’s goals. Certainly the transmission must be provided, and the utilities are not held responsible under Prop.7 for the lack of adequate transmission (an obviously reasonable condition to include) or for its acceleration under CEC jurisdiction. The initiative is also in full support of present CEC studies and work on this area, while boosting transmission opportunities for renewable energies is a major part of the initiative. And if the utilities just kept on signing bogus contracts that were defaulted by solar energy providers, how long do you think the CEC would allow this process to continue in such a ‘transparent’ climate?

And how long would the CEC and the CPUC be willing to allow the utilities to hold up the potential benefits in having California lead the nation – and the world – in the application of renewable to the electricity sector? Billions of dollars of new industry, and at least 375,000 new jobs in the field!

There are other objections and concerns that the environmental organizations have, but on balance, if we dismiss the two or three big ones that I have discussed above, the remaining opposition is on very shaky grounds - that it is a “poorly worded” initiative, for example. This is the argument used by the opposition against many prop initiatives that were clearly in the public interest, such as the restriction of smoking in public places. It dismays me to see the environmentalists resorting to such tactics, and presenting arguments not based on fact, or that distort fact. And it should certainly dismay them to be in bed with the utilities, who are absolutely gleeful that they have a cover for their perennial opposition to more aggressive applications of renewable.

So, yes, I do support Prop 7 now, and would dearly hope that all of the opposing people and organizations would step back, look hard again at the working an intent of the initiative, and ask themselves what it will take – today- to ramp up the goals for the renewable energy transition to the meaningful levels that the world now requires, and to provide an assurance that those goal will remain in California policy through 2025. Should we do any less for our children, and their children?

With respect, Donald W. Aitken, Ph.D - Sept. 15, 2008

Labels: , , , , ,