Capitol Alert

Brown pauses bid to boost renewable energy with expanded California power grid

Jerry Brown: ‘We are talking about extinction’

Gov. Jerry Brown, issuing an ominous appeal on climate change, spoke at a climate change conference in Vatican City on July 21, 2015, saying the world may already have “gone over the edge” on global warming and that humanity must reverse course o
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Gov. Jerry Brown, issuing an ominous appeal on climate change, spoke at a climate change conference in Vatican City on July 21, 2015, saying the world may already have “gone over the edge” on global warming and that humanity must reverse course o

Gov. Jerry Brown is delaying a bid to link California’s largest electricity grid with one that operates in five other Western states, slowing a proposal that his administration favored as a way to shrink the costs of hitting his renewable energy mandate.

Brown sent letters on Monday to legislative leaders announcing that he wanted state agencies to take more time studying whether California’s Independent System Operator should link with the multistate grid managed by Oregon-based PacifiCorp.

Some advocates for the proposal had been urging lawmakers to approve the expansion before the end of the state’s legislative session this month. The ISO reaches about 80 percent of Californians through Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

The plan met resistance from groups that feared California would inadvertently support PacifiCorp coal-fired plants by connecting with the company, as well as from public utilities who worried they’d be forced to pay higher fees to move power on transmission lines owned by the larger grid.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District was among the utilities that wrote letters to the ISO last month asking for more time.

“There remain some important unresolved questions that would be difficult to answer” by the legislative deadline, Brown wrote.

There remain some important unresolved questions that would be difficult to answer.

Gov. Jerry Brown

Linking the grids appeals to some environmental advocacy groups and California’s largest power companies because it would open opportunities to share renewable energy across state lines.

Studies released by the ISO last month suggested those kinds of exchanges would save California ratepayers $1 billion a year by 2030 because power companies would have to build fewer renewable-energy facilities to achieve the state’s goals for reducing greenhouse gases.

A law Brown signed in October that calls on utilities to generate half of their power from renewable sources gives state agencies until the end of next year to study the grid expansion.

ISO President Steve Berberich released a statement Monday saying the agency plans to move the proposal forward next year. “The studies have shown that a regional grid offers significant benefits to California’s economy and to the environment,” he said.

PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely said the company was “not surprised” by Brown’s decision to slow down. Local and state governments wrote a number of letters to the ISO this year in which they raised questions about how the shared grid would be governed, noting that they have distinctly different energy policies.

The company agrees “that more time is needed to work through key issues, including how a regional grid organization would be governed. This is a case where getting it right is more important than getting it fast,” Gravely said.

The proposal might have faced a difficult path in the Legislature this month if Brown had asked for a vote.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles and chairman of the Utilities and Commerce Committee, questioned whether it would dilute California’s climate change law or punish ratepayers if the utilities determine they need to build more transmission lines to trade power.

“California is 1 percent of the (greenhouse gas) emissions for the planet, and anybody who cares about their legacy has to keep in mind that unless we get the planet to agree with us, then we can’t really do much for cleaning up the planet. Of course we need more partners,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the right one.”

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton

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