SACRAMENTO Calif., (CN) – Riding a wave of supporters that filled the committee hearing room and overwhelmed the hallway, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, saw the Assembly Energy and Utilities Committee pass his bill to put California on a course toward 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.
Several inland Assembly members and representatives of energy utilities have criticized the ambitious legislation, particularly as utilities will ultimately be responsible for building the production facilities and electrical grid upgrades necessary to meet the goals of the bill.
Senate Bill 100 passed along partisan lines.
Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, said a key issue that needs to be addressed as the bill moves forward is how to compensate for periods of time where energy demand is highest but production is lowest.
“When we are talking about meeting a 100 percent renewable-energy portfolio, I think we have to be more purposeful when we are talking about how we address these intermittent periods,” Garcia said. “Wind and solar have helped us get as far as meeting the 33 percent [requirement] now.”
Garcia said he hopes to see information from the Public Utilities Commission relating to base load, which refers to the minimum amount of energy needed on an electrical grid over 24 hours. Base load is a concern due to the nature of renewable sources producing less power at certain times, which could compromise the needs of users that operate around the clock.
“I know this gives a lot of people heartburn, but in order for this to happen there has to be a very clear roadmap,” Garcia said.
Currently, nuclear power facilities – which are included in California’s green-energy portfolio until 2047 – and fossil-fueled power plants fill in the gaps. Palo Alto, which claims to be 100 percent renewable now, continues to fill lulls in green-energy generation with power produced by gas-fired plants and offsets the carbon emissions in accordance with California’s cap-and-trade program.
Past legislative decisions do not include large hydroelectric facilities over 30 megawatts in the portfolio. De Leon said that once the state reaches 60 percent of renewable energy, these power plants will be included – but refused to take an amendment to add the language to his bill.
Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, questioned why De Leon decided not to include large hydroelectric facilities in the clean-energy portfolio. Two of the largest hydroelectric facilities in the state are in his Lassen-area district and, if included, would bring his region nearly all the way to the final goal.
De Leon deferred the question to a later date.
“The devil is in the details,” Dahle said. “All renewables are not created equal. We talk about how we have a lot of solar and we have driven the cost down, but our commercial and industrial rates have gone up.”
Dahle said part of the reason solar costs have dropped is because they receive tax credits and do not pay property tax, unlike other energy sources.
Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Clovis, said constituents in his district already are squeezed by high electricity rates. Patterson’s district encompasses portions of Fresno and rural areas of California’s agricultural Central Valley.
“In 2016, the four investor utilities cut off 870,000 accounts because people could not pay their bills,” Patterson said. “That is equal to all of the households in San Francisco and San Diego combined. The growing and increasing cost of electricity in California is causing people to have to make decisions as to whether to pay rent or pay utilities.”
Patterson said California’s consumer rates are 34 percent higher than the national average.
“There is a high price tag in this policy,” Patterson said. “Because of the policy of this state, millions of Californians are living in energy poverty, that means they are spending more than 10 percent of their income on electricity.”
Patterson questioned whether De Leon expected to see a decrease in energy rates as the state moved toward the goal of total renewable energy.
“I think we do have some challenges when it comes to retail in California,” De Leon responded. “There is a difference between rates and retail. When it comes to utility bills for residential customers, we are actually the fourth lowest in the United States,” De Leon added.
De Leon added the intention of the bill is to lower costs, increase jobs and provide clean energy.
“I don’t think any politician, whether they are left or right, is going to say, ‘I have this novel idea, I want to raise customers utility bills while destroying the economy and losing jobs,’” De Leon said. “We have created 500,000 jobs in clean energy.”
Patterson and De Leon sparred over whose facts were correct and ultimately agreed to disagree.
“We are making a decision, going full-blown into an area where we have no definitive information about the costs,” Patterson said, adding he does not believe the bill will lower rates for customers. The assemblyman was one of several no votes.
The bill will next be heard in the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources.