Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times file, 2007

Wind turbines dot the landscape near Palm Springs.

Editorial: California must step up to the task of coordinating its energy future

Published: Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 6E

Not to state the obvious, but a governor can get recalled over a failure to keep the lights on.

Gov. Jerry Brown is not in danger of losing his job. But he should study the Little Hoover Commission's report on California's fractured system for delivering electricity.

The nonpartisan oversight board warned last week that failure to coordinate energy policy will undermine the state's advance toward a renewable energy future. The Bee's editorial board couldn't agree more.

"For the health of the state's environment and its economy, it is critical for California to get this transformation right," the report said.

State law says a third of California electricity must come from renewable power in the-not-too distant year of 2020. Also by 2020, the state must have reduced greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels.

The goals are vital to the future of California and nation, and they are achievable. But in the process of attaining those goals, California's leaders cannot make decisions that cause costs to skyrocket. Too much is riding on the outcome.

Within state government, one agency needs to know what the other is doing. Alas, that isn't happening. Officials issue directives with little, if any, regard to what other agencies require.

"State policies affecting electricity have been piled upon each other piecemeal, an accretion without design, a monument both to the state's lack of a comprehensive energy plan and the nature of the legislative process," the commission said.

In some quarters, the report was misread as blaming renewable energy for rate increases. Certainly, wind, solar and other alternative power sources will come at a cost, and authorities should clearly state the costs. Consumers also should know the full costs of traditional power, including the unplanned shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear power plant for safety reasons, and necessary upgrades to a distribution system.

The report suggests the need for a California energy secretary who would be responsible for energy-related decisions. In our view, adding a new layer of governance without consolidation makes little sense. That can't be done without overhauling the California Public Utilities Commission, created by constitutional amendment in 1911. An amendment would be needed to alter the CPUC in any significant way.

Brown is the decider in chief. He appoints board members, commissioners and regulators who oversee the electric system. He will take the blame if rates explode and lights flicker. The Little Hoover Commission report makes clear that more isn't necessarily better, but smart is. California has many dedicated bureaucrats who earnestly make decisions that for better or worse will help chart the state's and nation's energy future. If the state doesn't operate smarter, we'll all pay too much for not enough.

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