California to reshape energy futue

Millie HennickAugust 9, 2018400

California to reshape energy future

Motivated partially by the constant reports of wildfires in the state, California is looking at ways to eliminate pollution sources as soon as possible. The state is on the brink of dramatically reshaping its energy future in the next few weeks. In the capital, lawmakers and lobbyists are debating bills that would benefit renewable energy sources like solar and wind. In addition, the plan is to create an interstate electricity market covering much of the western United States. This will make it easier for utilities to bill their customers for wildfire damages, and promote the construction of geothermal and hydroelectric power plants.

Lawmakers could pass all those bills. Or they could do nothing.

Three weeks remain for the legislative session that ends August 31, and nobody knows what California's energy situation will look like after that. The outcome could depend on high-stakes negotiations between labor unions, electric utilities, environmentalists, energy companies, local governments and ratepayer advocates — not to mention Gov. Jerry Brown, who has one last chance to advance California's renewable energy goals in the Legislature before he leaves office next year.

Two legislative efforts for the desert

Two bills are of particular interest to desert citizens. One of them, from Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, would force utilities to purchase thousands of megawatts of geothermal power, potentially jump-starting development of geothermal power plants at the southern end of the Salton Sea. The other bill, from Assemblymember Bill Quirk, would require utilities to purchase electricity from "pumped storage" hydropower plants. The bill's sponsor is NextEra Energy Resources, which is working with Eagle Crest Energy Company to develop a pumped storage project on land near Joshua Tree National Park, in the desert about an hour east of Palm Springs. Making matters more complicated, the energy bills could live or perish together. While some of the bills may have the votes to pass on their own merits — particularly Senate Bill 100, which would require California to get 100 percent of its electricity from climate-friendly sources by 2045 — other bills might not. With so many powerful players, including the governor, pushing their priorities, some observers say it's possible a last-minute deal will combine many of the proposals.

"There's a lot of stuff floating around out there," said Matthew Freedman, an attorney at The Utility Reform Network, an influential ratepayer advocacy group. “Everybody has this fantasy that their bill gets wrapped up in a mega-bill because it has to go through."

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