Despite Setbacks, Brown and Dems Push Through Major “Climate Change” Policies

prop. 39The Legislature may have scuttled the centerpiece of Gov. Jerry Brown’s climate change plans, but it still approved ambitious new environmental policies that will impact the economy and life of Californians.

In coming years, the new legislation means California’s homes and buildings are expected to use dramatically less electricity and the power grid will increase its share of renewable energy. Brown also hopes to achieve much of what the Legislature rejected through executive orders and regulations. That will mean more electric cars on the road and increased use of biofuels, as part of a far-reaching effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is a long trek forward to change the very basis of our industrial economy,” Brown said last week. “And I think we’re making tremendous progress.”

In the legislative session that ended on Sept. 11, lawmakers halted a bill that would have mandated deep greenhouse gas emissions cuts by the year 2050. They also failed to extend the state’s carbon-limiting cap-and-trade program, which may otherwise expire in 2020.

Most contentious of all was a bid to slash petroleum use in motor vehicles in half by 2030. That idea got dropped after the oil industry launched a vigorous advertising campaign in opposition, and some Democrats in the state Assembly shied away.

Still, Brown and Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) will bring almost unparalleled accomplishments to a major international climate-change conference in Paris this December.

Lawmakers last week passed and sent to the governor a landmark measure, carried by de León, to require electric power providers to get half of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030 (currently they are required to get 33 percent by 2020). It’s a target that’s stricter than all but a few states.

The renewable energy goal means that electricity providers must invest in more wind farms and large-scale solar plants as well as new transmission infrastructure.  Currently, the three major utilities in the state – Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — each get more than 20 percent of their electricity from renewables.

The Public Utilities Commission has not yet studied how the 50 percent target might affect consumers’ electric rates. Terrie Prosper, a commission spokeswoman, said the marginal cost should be minimal “if new technologies like storage and electric vehicles can be effectively used to integrate renewable resources.”

The renewable energy bill, which Brown is expected to sign, also calls for new and existing buildings across the state to become, collectively, twice as energy efficient by 2030. This means that Californians can expect to get more information about their homes’ energy usage, a helpful tool for homebuyers among others. It is also likely to be easier to find and use incentives like rebates to make homes more efficient. Energy-use standards for electronic appliances may also continue to tighten.

“It is a very big goal,” said Dennis Murphy of the US Green Building Council’s California branch, who noted that the state already was far more energy-efficient than most of the nation. Churches, schools and office buildings will be affected as well as homes, he said.

The third leg of de León’s bill, known as Senate Bill 350, would have required the state to cut petroleum usage in motor vehicles in half by 2030. That portion got removed from the final bill. But Brown said last week that the California Air Resources Board, which would have taken charge of the petroleum mandate had it passed, would work toward a lower-petroleum future anyhow.

“The only thing we don’t have is a formal statement in law of a 50 percent goal,” Brown said. “But the ARB is committed to that 50 percent goal, and I am committed to backing them up.”

The air board is already planning for long-term greenhouse gas emissions cuts to comply with executive orders issued by Brown and his predecessor, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The executive orders require emissions reductions of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. These cuts will have impacts for many sectors, prompting industrial plants and even perhaps farms to cut their greenhouse gas output.

De León’s bill would have codified those goals into law, which would preserve the goal in statute no matter who succeeds Brown as governor.

“It’s not really set in stone. It’s an executive order,” said Ethan Elkind, a climate expert affiliated with the laws schools of the University of California, Berkeley and UCLA. He added that some groups may not follow those orders the way they would legislation.

But assuming the air board crafts policies to comply with the executive orders, that should effectively mean a close to 50 percent cut in petroleum use, said Simon Mui of the Natural Resources Defense Council — on the order, in other words, of what de León and Brown originally outlined.

Indeed, despite Brown’s fury at the oil companies, the air board may not be able to enact petroleum cuts directly, in the absence of legislative action.

The Air Resources Board “has pretty broad authority over air emissions, but I don’t think that translates into a direct ability to reduce petroleum,” said Brian Cragg, an attorney with the San Francisco firm Goodin, MacBride, Squeri & Day. “They would have to try to find some tie to air emissions…that would result in a reduction.”

Air board spokesman Dave Clegern said in an e-mail that the agency does not comment on legislation. However, “broadly we would note that Senate Bill 350 did not expand ARB’s authority, nor was it a directive to create new regulations,” he said.

The major programs needed to meet the decarbonizing goals announced this year by the governor are already in place, Clegern said. The air board has crafted policies that include reducing the carbon content of fuels, regulating the emissions from cars and trucks, and rewarding automakers that sell electric vehicles to Californians. The board also runs the cap-and-trade program, which limits carbon across nearly the entire California economy.

The air board operates some of its key programs under a landmark piece of legislation passed in 2006, which sought to slash California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 — a goal that state officials expect to meet in time.

But the air board, which is overseen by a panel of gubernatorial appointees, is also likely to face increased scrutiny from both businesses and lawmakers as it embarks on more ambitious policies whose costs have yet to be determined, including those that affect petroleum. New legislation provides that the Senate and the Assembly will now each appoint one member of the agency.

“There’s going to be a lot more attention paid to what strategies that we have available, including, like, litigation, to be able to address [regulatory] decisions, if we don’t think they’re fair and balanced,” said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable.

Lawmakers, some of whom toyed with the idea of curbing the air board’s power during the recent session, will also take a more active role in the watching and overseeing the agency, Lapsley said.

Originally published by CalMatters.org

CARTOON: Nuking Coal Power

Clean energy cartoon

Regulators Want All New CA Homes To Use ‘Zero Net Energy’

Solar panelsPlacing a big bet on solar power and new regulations, state officials have rolled out ambitious new requirements aimed at slashing energy use in newly-constructed homes.

“Buildings built in California starting in 2016 will have to comply with the nation’s toughest energy conservation standards,” the Central Valley Business Times reported. “The California Energy Commission has unanimously approved building energy efficiency standards that it says will reduce energy costs, save consumers money, and increase comfort in new and upgraded homes and other buildings.”

In single-family homes, that would amount to a drop in energy use by almost a third, relative to 2013 standards, the CVBT noted.

Cost and consequences

The New Residential Zero Net Energy Action Plan, as it has been dubbed, aimed “to establish a robust and self-sustaining market so that all new homes are zero net energy (ZNE) beginning in 2020.” Critics have reiterated longstanding objections to a statewide push of this kind, especially around the prospect of rising energy costs.

“The most complex issue will be valuing the homes, which will cost more upfront,” according to Greentech Media. “Currently, the CPUC is quoting an extra $2 to $8 per square foot after incentives. There will likely need to be incentives or creative utility billing, especially if the homes are providing demand-side services as the CPUC envisions. The CPUC says that the utilities are on board and will have to evaluate locational benefits of having net-zero homes on the system.”

As Greentech Media noted, planners have built in some would-be loopholes designed to make progress on ZNE without imposing the new standards too quickly: “Homes can be ZNE-ready, rather than actually being energy-neutral. That could mean they are solar-ready, for instance, but perhaps don’t have solar panels already installed.”

But even supporters of the plan have cautioned that executing on its goals may be a daunting challenge. At the Huffington Post, one analyst noted, “as California’s clean power goals rise, new capacity could begin to slow.”

“Some planned large projects are now on hold due to financial problems. Others face environmental challenges, such as threats to bird flyways and desert habitats. Large-scale solar plants, particularly those using solar thermal technology, are losing appeal to investors as photovoltaic panel prices plunge. And utilities, having largely reached their current renewable procurement targets, have few new projects in the pipeline. What’s more, the federal solar investment tax credit program for new utility projects drops from 30 percent to 10 percent after 2016, and ends completely for individuals.”

Unifying the grid

Nevertheless, optimism among policymakers and activists has remained high — largely because of the role of technological innovation centered in California. Apple and Google have embarked on so-called “grid-scale” renewable energy projects, while Tesla has pushed into the home energy storage business.

But some experts have implied that the problem of rising energy costs could best be addressed by linking up the net-zero energy industry with the zero-emission automobile industry. “A recent California study estimated that utility companies could earn $2.26 to $8.11 billion in net revenues from large-scale commercialization of EVs,” as reported in Fortune. “This is sufficient to allow utilities to invest both in installing charging infrastructure and return some of the revenues to their customers in the form of lower rates.”

By supplying ubiquitous EV charging stations, observers surmised, utilities could eventually recoup electrical power from cars embedded into the same flexible grid as homes. “The value of having a flexible load on the grid will grow even further with higher amounts of wind and solar,” Fortune continued. “Electric vehicles can be programmed to charge during peak solar or wind generation periods, preventing this valuable electricity from being wasted. In the future, electric vehicles could increase their value by putting electricity back into the grid as well[.]”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Senator de Leon’s Green Vision Has Valley Seeing Red

Senator Kevin de Leon, the same Los Angeles State Senator who proclaimed that “no one lives out there in the tumbleweeds” when referring to the Central Valley, has proven that he still doesn’t understand the realities faced by hardworking people who live here.

His recent op-ed in the Fresno Bee pitching Senate Bill 350 was an unconvincing argument for an economy-stifling nightmare that might excite people living in San Francisco or Newport Beach but would actually be a burden to people living in the Central Valley. This irresponsible mandate includes plans to force cuts to gas and diesel use by 50 percent, as well as increase renewable energy 50 percent in the next 15 years. Many people in the Central Valley, like thousands of farm workers who Senator de León says he is trying to help, have no choice but to gas up and drive long distances to and from work. Any small improvements to the environment would be overshadowed by the strangulation of the oil and gas industry, not to mention the financial impacts on every driver in this state as the cost of filling up cars, trucks or tractors skyrockets.

Families who have chosen to make their living in the Central Valley don’t have the mass transit options like those in the Bay Area and the great majority certainly don’t have the extra cash to spend on a new hybrid or electric car. Had Senator de Leon bothered to concern himself with the differences between the Central Valley and L.A. or the Bay Area he would know that one-third of all electric vehicle owners in California live in just two counties: Los Angeles and Santa Clara. Less than one percent live in the Valley’s two most populated counties: Fresno and Kern, according to the California Air Resources Board. And almost 70 percent of these elusive, electric car owners make more than $100,000 a year – far more than Fresno County’s median annual income of $45,500.

Californians are struggling to afford the highest cost of living in the nation thanks to high taxes, regulations and a growing dependence on new fees like those collected from cap-and-trade. We must continue to be wary of plans intended to help save the environment that aren’t based in reality and don’t offer any markers for success. California’s families, farmers and business owners can’t afford to foot the bill for Senator de Leon’s extreme energy and environmental policies.

Originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

Assemblyman Jim Patterson represents the 23rd District, which includes portions of Fresno and Tulare counties.

Fracking: California Newspapers Aren’t Telling the Whole Story

Anti-fracking sentiment is growing in California. In November, voters in Mendocino and San Benito Counties voted to ban the energy-extraction process, which involves injecting a pressurized mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into rock to release the natural gas trapped inside. In all likelihood, Golden State voters will be asked to consider a statewide fracking ban in November 2016. Not only do California’s environmentalists want to make a statement to the world; they also believe an anti-fracking ballot initiative would help boost turnout among voters sympathetic to liberal causes and politicians. This sentiment—along with sharp criticism by activists of Governor Jerry Brown’s relatively moderate views on hydraulic fracturing in California—led U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in January to call proponents of local fracking bans “know-nothings.”

In an interview with Northern California PBS affiliate KQED, Jewell said the proposed bans on fracking were misguided. “I think it’s going to be very difficult for industry to figure out what the rules are if different counties have different rules,” she said. “There are a lot of fears out there in the general public and that manifests itself with local laws or regional laws. … There is a lot of misinformation about fracking. I think that localized efforts or statewide efforts in many cases don’t understand the science behind it and I think there needs to be more science.”

A full-throated defense of fracking’s safety from an Obama administration cabinet official would seem newsworthy. But a Nexis search reveals that the only mention of Jewell’s pro-fracking remarks in a California newspaper came in my own editorial for U-T San Diego. This was no fluke. With the exception of a handful of stories in the San Francisco Chronicle, the state’s largest papers almost never report the administration’s view that—with prudent regulation—fracking can be safe.

At a May 2013 press conference, Jewell discussed new regulations governing fracking on public lands. She delivered her by-now standard endorsement of the practice and criticized misinformation about the energy-extraction technique peddled by environmentalists. “I know there are those who say fracking is dangerous and should be curtailed, full stop,” she said. “That ignores the reality that it has been done for decades and has the potential for developing significant domestic resources and strengthening our economy.”

That quotation appeared in the New York Times. The Los Angeles Times omitted Jewell’s quote and chose instead to turn to a spokesman for the Western Energy Alliance, a Denver-based trade association, for the pro-fracking view. If a pro-fracking comment appears in a California paper, you can be sure it will be from one of the Golden State media’s favorite bogeyman—either an energy trade association representative or an oil company executive.

Environmental-beat reporters at the L.A. Times, the Sacramento Bee, the San Jose Mercury-News, and other large state newspapers have reported on the Obama administration’s other energy policies, including its opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. But even as the president campaigned for reelection in 2012 with boasts about all the natural gas and oil produced by fracking during his first term, these reporters have somehow decided his views aren’t worth sharing with their readers.

In 1980, Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert Moss published a thriller about a Soviet plot to subvert the United States called The Spike. It was inspired by de Borchgrave’s years as a journalist and his belief that stories that didn’t reflect news organizations’ liberal political views often got “spiked” (pulled from publication)—even really juicy and provocative stories.

It’s almost impossible to look at California newspapers’ coverage of fracking and not see it as “The Green Spike.” The narrative that the greenest president in history thinks fracking is safe doesn’t fit with the narrative that fracking is dangerous. So in newsrooms across the Golden State, the real views of this president and his administration are considered irrelevant—even as his interior secretary throws down the gauntlet with California’s greens.

CARTOON: Sunshine Week

Sunshine Transparency Cartoon

Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch

Get Ready for Higher Electricity Bills

Is Kevin de León trying to kill off what’s left of California’s manufacturing?

He must. The leader of the California Senate a couple of weeks ago introduced a package of bills that call for a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use by cars and trucks and a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings, and demands that 50 percent of the electricity generated in the state must come from renewable sources, all by 2030.

All this earns him the warm applause of his base – he was accompanied by environmentalists, union folks and renewable energy entrepreneurs at his press conference – as he pushes the state’s businesses out into the cold.

Look, Californians already pay 50 percent more than the national average for electricity. Industrial customers, including many manufacturers, pay 79 percent more. As a result of that and California’s other high costs, the state has languished with about 1 percent annual growth in manufacturing jobs since the recession while the rest of the country has boomed at close to 7 percent.

And if these bills pass, electricity rates are bound to become shocking, making the state look even uglier to manufacturers. Of course, the effect doesn’t stop with much higher electricity costs.

“This proposal…is an attack on the petroleum industry,” said Tupper Hull of the Western States Petroleum Association. “It will be extraordinarily expensive and coercive. I mean crushingly expensive.”

How expensive no one seems to have calculated. (Why isn’t legislation like this required to submit an economic impact statement?) But whatever the cost is, Californians may well be all alone in bearing these self-inflicted shots.

“We’re going to oppose this very vigorously and not be apologetic about it,” Hull said.

California already has the highest gasoline prices in the continental United States but hey, maybe we can be twice as high as No. 2. Or three times as high. That’d be great for the economy, no?

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

California to Spend $20 Million on Part of ‘Hydrogen Highway’

As reported by the L.A. Times:

It’s been more than a decade since former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger regularly talked about his dream of building a “hydrogen highway” that would speed fleets of non-polluting cars from Mexico to Canada.

The vision never materialized anywhere other than in the governor’s upbeat, eco-friendly speeches.

Now, finally, a modest form of Schwarzenegger’s highway might actually become a reality.

The California Energy Commission reports that it’s spending $20 million to build nearly half of the approximately 100 stations needed to give a driver of a hydrogen car enough range to travel freely through most parts of the Golden State.

Click here to read the full story

The Tesla Effect

Call it the Tesla Effect.

Good news — so far — for California’s successful electric-vehicle maker and others in the industry. At least through last November, the low gasoline prices of recent months have not crashed electric vehicle sales.

Plug In America, which follows EV sales, charted both sales and the price of gas for recent years. “Gasoline prices have fluctuated almost a dollar during this period,” it found. “Very recently, they’ve dipped to new lows. But on average, the trend has been flat, because all the ups and downs cancel each other out.”

The chart on their site shows national gas prices jumping up and down from 2011 through Nov. 2014, from lows of around $3 a gallon to highs of nearly $4. California prices have been about 10 percent to 15 percent higher than national prices.

“The current generation of plug-in vehicles started selling in December 2010,” Plug In America also reported. “As a product category, PEVs [plug-in electric vehicles] are still in their infancy. Sales have risen year after year. The trend is rising.”

EV sales

The chart on that site shows sales of EVs steadily rising from close to zero at the beginning of 2011 to about 10,000 a month at the end of 2014. Here’s a similar chart:

US electric car sales

However, a caution light comes from Robert Poole, director of transportation policy at the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation. “We are now seeing gas prices far below the data for 2013 and 2014, so all bets are off in terms of the impact on hybrid and EV sales impact,” he told CalWatchdog.com.

“The auto industry is already seeing a large increase in pickup truck and SUV sales, which is widely attributed to the impact of lower gas prices,” he said. “I would be very surprised if there were not a comparable impact, in the other direction, on sales of hybrids and EVs.”

Long-term data to come out in future months will tell the story.

But USA Today reported this week:

“Sales of new cars and trucks roared off to a fast start in January, towed by Americans’ renewed love affair with trucks and SUVs as low fuel prices mean the gas-thirsty models aren’t so expensive to fill up.

“Trucks — a category that consists of pickups, vans and SUVs — were 54% of January sales; cars were the remainder, according to sales tracker Autodata.”

One detail can be noted, for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Its Chrysler division went bankrupt during the Great Recession, was bailed out by the federal government, then merged with Fiat. The picture now:

“Jeep, again, was the star, posting its best-ever monthly sales and recording a 44% increase by the compact Jeep Cherokee SUV.

“Patriot, smaller than Cherokee and on the market since the 2007 model, found new buyers somewhere, and recorded a 35.6% gain.

“Ram pickup was up 14%.

“Chrysler has become largely a truck and SUV company — 72.5% of its sales — while its cars are an almost incidental 27.5%.

“Even against the industry-wide strong, new interest in trucks and SUVs, FCA US results are dramatic.”

The future

These numbers likely only would hold so long as gas prices remain low. If the history of fluctuations once more arcs upward, then gas-powered vehicles again could come into disfavor.

The San Jose Mercury News reported today:

“Those amazingly low gas prices that soothed motorists for the past few months will soon be in the rearview mirror: Pump prices have jumped a dime or more in the past week and are expected to soar another 30 to 50 cents a gallon by April. 

“That would have California drivers paying around $3 a gallon, a far cry from today’s $2.53 statewide average mark but still well below the $3.60 price a year ago.”

California’s situation is unique because of special state fuel requirements, including the conversion, going on now, to more expensive summer fuel. And the state is working out how much the new tax for the cap-and-trade program will cost.

But gas prices are rising across the country. “[T]he most pain is being felt now in the upper Midwest, where the statewide average in Michigan soared from $2.09 on Tuesday to $2.23 on Wednesday,” the Mercury News reported. “Bay City, Michigan, led all metropolitan areas in the nation with a 29-cent overnight hike.”

On the other hand, Citigroup economists expect the oil price decline to continue, or at least not to rise.

Originally published on CalWatchdog.com

Hydraulic Fracturing Major Contributor to CA’s Economic and Energy Future

The release of the draft EIR on Well Stimulation Operations marks an important milestone in meeting the deadlines set by Senate Bill 4. WSPA and our members are reviewing the details of the draft EIR and will continue to participate in workshops and public discussion regarding SB 4.

While we are pleased with the state’s process on implementing Senate Bill 4, it is important to note the draft EIR contemplates hypothetical development scenarios and provides a high level review.

To date, well stimulation in California has never been associated with any known adverse environmental impacts.

California has been a major producer of oil for well over 100 years.  We produce close to 600,000 barrels of oil per day, making us the third largest oil producing state in the nation, behind Texas and North Dakota. The vast majority of this production takes place in Kern County at the southern end of California’s San Joaquin Valley.

California also is home to significant shale oil resources, the largest of which is the Monterey Shale Formation that lies under large parts of the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

Hydraulic fracturing is a safe and proven energy production technique used to obtain oil and natural gas in areas where those energy supplies are trapped in tight rock and shale formations. Once a well has been subjected to hydraulic fracturing, crude oil or natural gas production may occur for years without additional fracturing.

Hydraulic fracturing operations occur over very short time periods, usually two to five days. Once an oil or natural gas well is drilled and properly lined with steel casing, fluids are pumped down to an isolated portion of the well at pressures high enough to cause tiny fractures in rock formations thousands of feet below the earth’s surface. These fractures allow oil and natural gas to flow more freely.

Hydraulic fracturing is a common well stimulation technique that has been linked to America’s dramatic domestic energy resurgence and economic recovery. Most notably, hydraulic fracturing is connected with natural gas production in parts of the Northeast and Intermountain West regions of the United States and with oil shale production in North Dakota and Texas. Hydraulic fracturing, a technology that has been used safely for more than 60 years, has played a critical part in helping the United States become energy independent.

Energy producers in California continue to fuel the West with affordable and efficient domestic energy and are major contributors to the state’s economy and energy future.

 is president of the Western States Petroleum Association

This article was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily