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A Wonky Electricity Plan Could Help California Meet Its Climate Goals — Or Doom Them?
One of Gov. Jerry Brown’s final climate change-related priorities is moving through the California Legislature but faces opposition from some Democrats.
Proponents of planning electricity use with other Western states embrace the possibility of exporting more of California’s solar energy and importing more wind and hydroelectric energy. They say it would save money and solve one of the largest challenges facing the state’s energy grid. But opponents worry it could jeopardize the state’s climate change progress.
“The two sides of the debate are emphasizing completely different issues,” said Bentham Paulos, author of a new report for the nonpartisan think tank Next 10.
Jointly planning electricity use could allow California to purchase wind or hydroelectric power from nearby states at night, when solar energy shuts off. This would replace natural gas plants the state currently fires up in the evening.
At times, California also has more solar energy during the day than it can use, requiring it to shut off that energy or pay other states to take it. A “regionalized” electric grid could solve this problem and reduce emissions in other states.
“It also helps us take dirtier resources off the grid in other states,” Lauren Navarro of the Environmental Defense Fund told lawmakers last month at a hearing. “The renewables we have in California are less expensive and will be chosen more often by the market than dirtier resources like coal.”
Brown has argued the state won’t be able to put much more renewable energy online without a regional grid.
But the plan has divided consumer advocates, environmentalists and Democrats in the Legislature, who fear a new interstate energy agreement could allow federal regulators appointed by President Trump to interfere in California’s electricity mix.
“It is so critical it seems to me that we maintain that protection against an administration that has made a commitment to doing everything possible to undermine the values of this state and our energy principles in particular,” said state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson at the hearing.
Opponents also expressed concern about California lawmakers ceding control to an independent governance board. Similar concerns sank a last-minute effort last year to pass regional grid legislation.
The Next 10 report downplays the chance federal regulators can or will meddle with state renewable energy goals, but a recent Senate legislative staff analysis finds the possibility credible — demonstrating the lack of consensus about regionalization’s effects.
Despite that uncertainty, a bill to create a regional grid passed two Senate committees last month.
When lawmakers return in August, Brown will have one more month to pass one more piece of climate change legislation before his final session in office ends.
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