OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — A giant irrigation district sued the University of California for records on a plan for California to help create a regional electricity market of 14 Western states — a plan the district believes could endanger California’s climate-change laws.
The Imperial Irrigation District believes the California Independent System Operator, or CalISO, the quasi-state agency that operates the state’s electric grid, encouraged university-affiliated attorneys to write a friendly legal opinion about the proposed grid expansion.
Should such a regional grid be created, the irrigation district says, California could be forced to accept “dirty” electricity generated in other states, and federal lawsuits that could destroy years of clean-energy legislation in California, due to preemption by the Interstate Commerce Clause and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The Imperial Irrigation District supplies water to half a million acres in the bone-dry but heavily agricultural Great California Desert. It also is the state’s third-largest electricity supplier, with 150,000 customers in Imperial, San Diego and Riverside counties.
A report prepared for CalISO and released in July estimated that customers would save $55 million a year in 2020 and as much as $1.5 billion a year by 2030 in a regional market.
The report: “Senate Bill 350 Study: The Impacts of a Regional ISO-Operated Power Market on California,” was prepared for the CalISO by The Brattle Group, Energy and Environmental Economics, Berkeley Economic Advising & Research, and Aspen Environmental Group.
But the irrigation district believes the legal opinion written by the university-affiliated attorneys may have been “flawed” and “self-directed” by CalISO, and that the opinion “truly wasn’t independent.”
The irrigation district sued the Regents of the University of California on Dec. 15 in Alameda County Court.
CalISO has turned over its records on the opinion the attorneys wrote for it, involving the legal risks of creating a regional energy market of 14 Western states, but the UC Regents have not, according to the 12-page lawsuit, with 64 pages of attached exhibits.
“If CalISO is supporting the basis for regionalization by a report that is flawed or was self-directed by CalISO and truly wasn't independent, then decision makers need to know that, [and] the public needs to know that,” irrigation district attorney Mary Severson said in an interview.
The opinion at issue was written by Ethan Elkind, Dan Farber and Ann Carlson, whom CalISO hired as consultants. Elkind is director of the Climate Program at the Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment at UC Berkeley and UCLA; Farber is co-director at the center. Carlson is the co-director of UCLA Law School's Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
CalISO delivered the opinion letter to the Legislature in August.
The UC Regents did not respond to a request for comment.
Under the proposal, CalISO, a nonprofit whose board is appointed by the governor, would merge California’s electricity grid with PacifiCorp's, a profit-seeking utility that operates in Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and parts of Northern California.
The goal is to increase the market for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, and save costumers money.