In some embarrassing news for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who styles himself a champion of renewable energy, Texas has just passed California as the number one state in the country for wind power. Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger’s trailing Democratic challenger, Treasurer Phil Angelides, sought to capitalize on current energy concern by presenting an energy action plan, with details to be revealed after he is sworn into office.
“Within 100 days of taking office,” declared Angelides in his prepared statement, “I will unveil an action plan that will ensure the state has sufficient power with a 15 percent reserve – along with needed improvements to the transmission grid — to provide adequate power to protect our families, our economy, and our businesses.”
This promise of an energy plan within 100 days of being sworn in as governor was the first part of Angelides’ three-part energy plan announced yesterday. In the second part, he said would revive the late California Power Authority. Finally, he pledged to appoint an energy czar.
The old state power authority, which I strongly supported in a series of columns and articles early in this decade, was an Angelides-sponsored agency whose creation was engineered by the treasurer and his ally, then Senate President Pro Tem John Burton. It was approved by then Governor Gray Davis, who allowed his chief energy advisor during the 2001 electric power crisis, veteran public utility executive David Freeman, to become power authority chairman. But by the time Schwarzenegger abolished it after taking office, few cared about it.
The agency had a broadscale charge, with the potential ability to take over power plants from manipulating merchant power generators and to use its multi-billion dollar bonding capability to build “peaker” power plants (which would be quite useful in the current heat storm) and create vast new investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.
But the state power authority, on whose board Angelides served, proved to be a bust. Virtually nothing was accomplished. At one memorable board meeting, attended by the treasurer, scores of power generators came to pitch projects, most of them for renewable power. Despite promises and high hopes, they ended up with nothing. In addition, the agency’s forecast of the state’s future power needs missed what is now occurring.
Angelides himself did not attend most of the state power authority’s board meetings. It was a great disappointment.
“Arnold Schwarzenegger,” the Democratic candidate declared yesterday, “promised us in 2004, ‘Trust me. Everything will be under control. Your lights will stay on.’ And for three years, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been singing the music of California’s deregulation scheme, thwarting efforts to create an environment that attracts clean power to California,” said Angelides. “It’s time to send a strong signal to the market that the failed deregulation experiment of Enron, George Bush, and the energy power pirates is over once and for all.”
“The Governor’s energy policy can be summed up in four words: Pray for Mild Weather,” said Angelides. “Governor Schwarzenegger has put California’s energy in the hands of the power barons who have been fined more than $5.3 billion for market manipulation. The result is a crazy quilt energy policy that is not working for California.”
While there is much to fault Schwarzenegger on with regard to energy, the reality is that the core of his approach on electric power is not a widespread deregulation scheme but to run the system primarily through the state’s Public Utilities Commission, following the outlines of a bill by former Assemblyman Rod Wright (D-Los Angeles) signed into law by former Governor Gray Davis. The core of the approach is to promote long-term power contracts regulated and approved by the PUC.
This is the complete antithesis of the wide-open daily “spot” market which was so successfully gamed in the past by various companies including, as Angelides mentioned, the late Enron Corp., which was a political contributor to Angelides.
Schwarzenegger does support creating a “direct access” market for large businesses seeking better deals with power generators, but that hasn’t happened.
While the reality of the energy situation in California is not as Angelides portrays it, many critics have legitimate concerns with the course of Schwarzenegger’s energy policy. There has been tremendous criticism of the governor’s chief energy advisor, Joe Desmond, for his preoccupation with the so-called Frontier Line project. This is a speculative and very expensive venture to provide more transmission capability around the West. It is also a way to more easily bring coal-fired power from the Mountain West to market.
Desmond is an excellent briefer with a strong grasp of the issues, as he has demonstrated to the state’s press corps this week. But many fault him for putting such focus on the Frontier Line for the future at the expense of a greater focus on pushing through conventional power plants and renewable energy projects in the near term. Indeed, this was a principal reason why he was not confirmed by the Senate as chairman of the California Energy Commission. Desmond continues in government as undersecretary of the resources agency.
Schwarzenegger has repeatedly called for more renewable power for California, and has accelerated the state’s renewable portfolio standard — under which utilities are required to get 20 percent of their electric power from renewable sources — from 2017 to 2010. But, although he succeeded in getting his Million Solar Roofs program enacted earlier this year, the acceleration in rhetoric has not yet been matched by an acceleration in production.
Indeed, Texas has now passed California as the number one state in the country for the production of electric power by wind turbines.
California had long been the national leader in wind power — and had been the world leader — since the inception of its programs by former Governor Jerry Brown over a quarter-century ago.
The American Wind Energy Association announced yesterday that Texas now has 2,370 megawatts of capacity. California has 2,323 megawatts of wind power capacity.
Renewable power advocate V. John White, an Angelides supporter who nonetheless has been admiring of Schwarzenegger on a number of energy and environmental fronts, says that the “megawords have not been matched by megawatts.”
However, as he and others note, in addition to a lack of push from the state, wind projects in California have been of late hampered by regulation, something which has not been as much of a factor in Texas. In particular, there has been increased concern about the fate of birds drawn to the massive wind turbines.