California Forum

Another View: Regional market should support clean energy, not coal

Another round of big changes that will affect Californians’ utility budgets is underway.
Another round of big changes that will affect Californians’ utility budgets is underway. Los Angeles Times file

As the West’s clean energy economy continues to expand, it is timely to look at more efficient ways to manage our electricity grid. However we need to be sure that any new system – including a regional energy market – helps build up the region’s clean energy success and pushes coal into early retirement.

Retiring the use of coal helps protect public health from air pollution and addresses the main driver of carbon pollution in the country.

Recently, a writer argued that a regional energy market in the West could remove inefficiencies and further the growth of our region’s abundant clean resources (“Regional energy market could help meet climate goals”; Viewpoints, Aug. 2). That’s true. But will such a market allow coal plants to persist in the region, reintroduce coal power into California markets and open the door to polluting natural gas generation?

Elsewhere in the country, the details of how regional markets are designed and managed typically aren’t transparent to the public. Such markets are hard for all but a handful of people to understand and engage.

A western market needs to be different. It should be guided by key principles and values that reflect California’s responsible climate policies. It needs to be designed to ensure that the power from dirty coal plants is not just shuffled around the region.

The agency that would be responsible for participating in a regional market, the California Independent System Operator, needs clear direction from the Legislature to make sure the new market’s design is right.

Several years ago, legislation helped cut the cord between California customers and dirty coal. This has led to coal plant retirements in Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, and has helped spur a huge growth in clean energy. Continuing our progress to meet the climate challenge requires continuing the prompt retirement of coal plants. Replacing that coal power with clean, renewable energy – and not polluting energy like natural gas – is essential to address climate change.

We vigorously support the governor’s call to expand the state’s clean energy goals to 50 percent by 2030. Let’s continue to pursue our clean energy goals with careful policies that increase clean energy and ensure that coal plants are retired quickly to benefit our climate and people’s health.

Bill Corcoran is the western regional campaign director for the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign.