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[Newsom blunders...] Electricity prices are shocking the lawmakers who voted for them

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Leroy N. Soetoro

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Feb 6, 2024, 4:50:10 PMFeb 6
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https://www.politico.com/newsletters/california-
climate/2024/01/30/electricity-prices-are-shocking-the-lawmakers-who-
voted-for-them-00138714

ELECTRIC POLITICS: California lawmakers are getting burned by the very
utility bills they voted to increase for their wealthy constituents.

A cadre of coastal Democrats is pushing to repeal a fee that would drive
up utility bills for some middle- and high-income customers. Lawmakers
ordered it up two years ago in part to cover the costs of adapting to
climate change.

“My constituents are pissed off,” Menlo Park Assemblymember Marc Berman
said at a press conference this morning on Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin‘s
AB 1999. “I know because they told me over and over again at every
community coffee that I had in the fall and in the winter [that] their
rates keep going up.”

Berman voted for the fee in 2022. What’s changed?

The support for Irwin’s proposal reflects the intensifying political
pressure lawmakers face to do something about utility bills that have shot
up by as much as 127 percent over the last decade. The bills incorporate
climate-driven costs such as burying power lines to reduce wildfire risks
and building out infrastructure that will be needed to electrify cars and
homes to wean the state off carbon-emitting fossil fuels.

AB 205, passed in 2022, was intended to spread the costs more equitably.
It authorized the California Public Utilities Commission to create a new
fee that would vary with income, costing wealthier people the most, while
reducing the price for each kilowatt of electricity everyone uses. The
legislation specified that the change must reduce overall bills for low-
income residents.

It hasn’t taken effect yet — the CPUC is still weighing competing
proposals and has a June deadline to settle on one. Utilities are pitching
some of the largest fees, at up to $50 per month.

But lawmakers representing wealthier, coastal areas of the state are
freaking out now.

“The CPUC needs to withdraw this proposal,” said San Francisco Sen. Scott
Wiener, who also voted for AB 205. “Come back with a proposal that
actually works for California, that focuses our utilities on being safe,
providing reliable electricity without continually jacking up rates.”

When asked why they had reversed course on their own order to the CPUC,
Irwin — who hails from Thousand Oaks — said it was tucked in a catch-all
energy spending bill that was introduced late in the legislative process
with little time for deliberation.

“This should’ve had a discussion in both houses, a thorough and robust
discussion,” she said. “Policy decisions should not be made at the PUC.”

The PUC’s ratepayer advocacy arm said lawmakers have it backwards: Failing
to implement the fixed charge would bring their fears to pass.

“It will cause utility rates to increase unsustainably, it will push more
people into arrearage, and it will create enormous headwinds for our
efforts to electrify the economy,” said Matt Baker, director of the Public
Advocates Office.

A spokesperson for Gov. Gavin Newsom said he was looking forward to seeing
a CPUC proposal in line with AB 205.

“California must combat climate change by rapidly expanding the use of
clean electricity in our vehicles and buildings, while at the same time
making it more affordable for low-income Californians,” Alex Stack said in
an email. — WV

CHAMBER CLAPS BACK: Business groups that fought hard against California’s
most ambitious climate bills last session are back for more.

National heavyweights like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Farm
Bureau Federation joined forces Tuesday in a new lawsuit with CalChamber
and other state groups to try to overturn the state’s nation-leading
climate disclosure laws that Newsom signed last year, SB253 and SB261.

The laws will compel thousands of large corporations operating in the
state to disclose their carbon footprints and climate-related financial
risks, including controversial Scope 3 emissions.

But the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District
of California, claims that the laws violate the First Amendment by
compelling speech on a “controversial” issue and that California is
attempting to act as a de facto national emissions regulator.

“These new climate reporting laws are far from cost-effective and they
will not have any notable impact on climate change,” CalChamber CEO and
President Jennifer Barrera said in a statement.

It sets the stage for a big legal fight over California’s ability to
require these disclosures from hefty polluters — and is likely to
reverberate beyond the state as others seek to follow suit.

Wiener, who sponsored SB253, said in a statement that the lawsuit amounts
to “straight up climate denial.”

Newsom, who’s expressed some reservations about the implementation
timeline and costs for businesses for SB 253, is “in the process of
reviewing” the lawsuit, Stack said in a statement. Newsom’s recent budget
proposal didn’t include funds for the California Air Resources Board to
begin rulemaking.

POWER PLAY: In other 253/261 news, Wiener and Sen. Henry Stern, author of
SB261, clarified today in a letter to the Senate Daily Journal that
utility companies based outside of the state whose sole interaction with
California is selling power into the state don’t need to comply with the
disclosure laws.

The letter is in response to questions the lawmakers said they’ve received
on whether such companies need to comply.

One of those companies is Idaho Power, a utility that sells into
California and is considering broader ties as part of the California
Independent System Operator’s day-ahead electricity market.

Brad Bowlin, a spokesperson for Idaho Power, said the laws could
discourage it from seeking closer trading ties with California.

“This legislation, if enforced, could add significant costs to our
participation, and that will certainly be part of our analysis moving
forward,” he said in an email. — JW

SALMON TRUCKER HAT: Newsom played up his salmon-preserving bona fides
today with the release of a 37-page document outlining both new and
ongoing state efforts to protect the iconic fishery from habitat loss and
warming temperatures.

The steps include the in-process removal of dams along the Klamath River,
Eel River and Matilija Creek as well as the construction of fish ladders
and restoration of floodplains and streams.

Environmental and fishing groups remain skeptical. Scott Artis, the
executive director of the Golden State Salmon Association, long at odds
with Newsom over dropping salmon numbers and his plan to pipe more water
south via the Delta Conveyance Project, isn’t won over quite yet.

“What it potentially boils down to is conveniently timed smoke and
mirrors,” Artis said.

He sees promise in Newsom’s strategy: He called it “full of good stuff,”
pointing specifically to increased production from hatcheries and measures
to protect salmon in the Feather River, where hot temperatures threaten an
important stronghold in the Sacramento Valley.

“We need to make sure that these things actually go forward because the
track record so far has been lackluster,” Artis said.

Redgie Collins, the legal and policy director of California Trout, is
looking for funding in the budget and a proposed climate bond.

“If we fund these efforts listed in this document, and we do it on the
timeline associated with it, then it would be very easy to call Gov.
Newsom a salmon champion in the state,” he said. — CvK

FROM THE CAPITOL
HIT THE BRAKES: A Democratic state lawmaker is moving to stop local
governments from banning the construction of new gas stations.

Sen. Aisha Wahab, a Bay Area Democrat, introduced SB 983 late Monday
night. It would direct the California Energy Commission to produce a study
by January 2027 on retail gas stations and non-fossil-fuel infrastructure
like electric vehicle chargers and hydrogen fueling stations — and block
cities and counties from stopping the construction of both gas stations
and zero-emission infrastructure until that study is completed.

It comes as a growing number of cities nationally consider gas station
bans, a movement that began in 2021 when the Sonoma County city of
Petaluma passed its moratorium.

Wahab’s bill acknowledges the state needs to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions but also raises concerns about the economic future of the
state’s more than 10,000 retail gas stations. Around 95 percent of those
gas stations are operated by small business owners, predominantly
immigrants. — AN

TRANSITIONS
SNOW MAN: The face of California’s snow surveys has moved to a new role:
Sean de Guzman is now leading flood operations for the Department of Water
Resources.

He started Jan. 2 but still showed up for today’s snow survey at Phillips
Station, measuring stick in hand, to brief the public about the snowpack
(which is at only 52 percent of average) and mention his new role.

Will he be back for next month’s survey? “You’ll have to tune in,” said
department spokesperson Ryan Endean. — CvK

WHAT WE'RE CLICKING
— The Surfrider Foundation gave California an A in its annual State of the
Beach report. Meanwhile, 22 coastal states got a C for their response to
sea-level rise.

— California’s over depleted aquifer situation is dire — but groundwater
management can make a difference, shows a study in Nature.

— Patagonia gave $500,000 this month to the campaign to stop neighborhood
oil drilling in California.

Follow us on Twitter

Debra Kahn @debra_kahn
Blanca Begert @BlancaBegert
Alex Nieves @alexdrnieves
Wes Venteicher @wesventeicher
Camille von Kaenel @cvonka


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