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Craig Noble’s Blog

California's Prop 7 is Bad for Renewable Energy

Craig Noble

Posted August 19, 2008

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I’ve learned to bite my tongue around certain friends and relatives because not everyone appreciates my incessant talk about clean energy. I will exercise some restraint. Perhaps I’ll drop the jokes about my brother-in-law’s gas-guzzling SUV, which I’m told are wearing thin. But I will not shut up because the stakes are too high.

We need to create a clean energy economy. I don’t want to see our last best places drilled for oil or strip-mined for coal. Nor do I want to breathe polluted air. Nobody’s children deserve to live on a planet feverish from global warming. Besides, I get excited about being part of the solution here in California. In recent years we’ve passed two internationally-famous global warming laws – The Clean Cars Law (AB 1493) and The Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), not to mention a lesser known yet hugely important law called The Greenhouse Gas Emissions Performance Standard Act (SB 1368), which prevents utilities from entering into long-term contracts for electricity generated by dirty sources like coal.

California is where the action is, so even though my friends and family get a little nervous when I take a few steps toward my soapbox, they actually ask for my opinion when it comes time for them to approach the ballot box. I’m anticipating some potentially confusing conversations about one particular measure that’s going to be on the ballot this November. How do I explain that they should vote no on Proposition 7, The Solar and Clean Energy Act, which ostensibly requires California to increase its use of renewable energy? With a name like that, what could be wrong with it?

The list of reasons to vote against Prop 7 is long and complicated, but it boils down to this: California’s leading conservation groups and the renewable energy industry itself agree that Proposition 7 would actually make it harder to increase renewable energy development in California.

Here’s that long and complicated list of reasons to vote no on Prop 7:

  • Proposition 7 was put together by people who don’t know what they’re doing; they don’t understand California’s clean energy policies, laws and markets. Good intentions aren’t good enough, we need clean energy experts who know what they’re doing making energy policy.
  • Proposition 7 locks in place complex regulatory barriers that make it more difficult for California to achieve its renewable energy goals. We need to dismantle barriers to renewable energy, so we can accelerate efforts to create a clean electric grid.
  • Prop 7 could exclude smaller renewable energy providers from participating in California’s energy markets; it excludes renewable power facilities smaller than 30 megawatts from counting toward the measure’s new requirements. We need to make it easier, not harder, for clean energy companies to set up shop in California, bringing with them jobs and economic growth.
  • Prop 7 slashes penalties (by 80 percent) for utilities that fail to achieve the state’s renewable energy targets. There needs to be enforcement and consequences to ensure that energy providers comply with the law.
  • Prop 7 explicitly allows for a signed contract – not the actual construction of a renewable energy project or delivery of electricity from the project – to count as compliance, and creates several other huge new loopholes that could only be removed by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Promises aren’t good enough; we need real clean energy projects that are actually on the ground.
  • Prop 7 would limit environmental review of renewable energy projects. The siting of renewable energy and transmission projects should be an open, transparent process with ample opportunity for review and comment by concerned citizens, regulatory agencies, and federal, state and local governments.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about California energy policy, it’s that it’s really complicated. I don’t pretend to understand all the details, but I do know they matter. NRDC’s California energy experts all agree that each of the aforementioned details would make it harder, not easier, to increase the amount of renewable energy used in California. Taken together, these flaws would be an unmitigated disaster. Our friends at the Union of Concerned Scientists, California League of Conservation Voters, Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies, and the California Solar Energy Industries Association all agree.

The pro-renewable energy vote this November is an emphatic No on Proposition 7.



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Solar Cali GirlAug 20 2008 04:15 AM

Dear Craig Noble,
Please take this in the most respectful manner possible. Before you regurgitate the talking points of another organization, I suggest you (1) READ the initiative you are lamenting before you add your name to the opposition and (2) do a little bit of research on the organizations whose opposition you are parroting.

First of all, the initiative is not long and complex. Many have said that Proposition 7 is a complex 45 plus page initiative. In fact, the portion that is actual NEW law amounts to 8 pages. Anyone who has worked in the public policy field knows that when you amend existing law you must include the complete text of the statute you are amending – thus 45 pages. Read the initiative, new law in italics, existing law in regular font.

Now, a point-by-point response to the lies that the NRDC has been propagating on behalf of the big utilities and that you repeat here.

1.The utilities, vis a vis NRDC, want voters to forget that it was the NRDC that made deregulation of the electricity market in CA possible, and then spearheaded the opposition campaign to kill a voter-initiated proposition (prop 9) to mitigate what would ultimately be the devastating effects of rolling blackouts and an energy crisis. You parrot the big utilities when you say that the people who wrote the initiative don’t know what they are doing, when in fact: It was Ralph Cavanagh of the NRDC that broke the backs of other environmentalists to pass deregulation on behalf of the utilities and who testified in Oregon ON BEHALF OF ENRON so that Enron could purchase the Oregon utility. Either the NRDC and Ralph Cavanagh are shills for the big utilities or they have no room to claim other people don’t know what they are talking about. See the following articles and books that credit Ralph Cavanagh and NRDC with the 2001 energy crisis in CA: “How Environmentalists Sold Out California to Help Enron,” Center for Media and Democracy, Third Quarter Volume 3 2003; “A Dime’s Worth of Difference,” Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, (Counterpunch 2004) available at; “American Foundations: An Investigative History,” Mark Dowie, (MIT Press 2001) available at; “Power Play: A California Ballot Drive Tries to Short Circuit a Utility Industry Bailout,” Harvey Wasserman, 10/27/1998, available at to name only a few.

2.You say that Prop. 7 COULD exclude small energy providers and then you say it will. Perhaps your hesitance is the fact that both the Legislative Analyst Office and the Attorney General, in their analyses of Prop.7, both found that the language of the initiative did not exclude small providers and that the ‘fear’ was created by the utility-funded opposition campaign.

3.Prop. 7 does not “slash penalties.” It does exactly the opposite! Currently, the existing penalty is no more than a regulation NOT a law, which makes it highly questionable if it will ever be enforced – given than it has no reaI legal teeth. Prop. 7 makes the penalty actual law. Meaning the utilities will be held legally liable for non compliance – i.e. lawsuits, fines, and real consequences. Prop. 7, in addition to making the fine law, strengthens it by removing the existing cap on fines ($26 million) and makes the penalties automatic. Again, READ the initiative before you spout the utilities’ arguments.

4.Prop. 7 does not limit environmental reviews. I point you to the language of the initiative itself: Prop. 7 contains language which requires that every solar and clean energy facility and related transmission line must "show that there is substantial evidence that the project will not cause a significant adverse impact on the environment or electrical and transmission and distribution system will comply with all applicable standards, ordinances, or laws..." (See Prop. 7 Section 23, Amending Public Resources Code section 25550 (a).)
Further, in Section 23, amending PRC 25550, Prop. 7 requires that " and clean energy plants and related facilities reviewed under this process (i.e. the Energy Commission's "fast-tracing process") shall satisfy the requirements of section 25520 and other necessary information required by the commission by regulation including the information required by permitting by each local, state, and regional agency that would have jurisdiction but for the exclusive jurisdiction of the commission, and the information required for the permitting by each federal agency that has jurisdiction over the proposed solar and clean energy plant and related facilities."
The reference to PRC section 25520 includes the following language contained in existing law, located outside the initiative, which has not been amended, but which relates to the approval process. PRC section 25520 states in full:
"The application shall contain all of the following information and any other information that the commission by regulation may require: (a) A detailed description of the design, construction, and operation of the proposed facility. (b) Safety and reliability information, including, in addition to documentation previously provided pursuant to Section 25511, planned provisions for emergency operations and shutdowns. (c) Available site information, including maps and descriptions of present and proposed development and, as appropriate, geological, aesthetic, ecological, seismic, water supply, population, and load center data, and justification for the particular site proposed. (d) Any other information relating to the design, operation, and siting of the facility that the commission may specify. (e) A description of the facility, the cost of the facility, the fuel to be used, the source of fuel, fuel cost, plant service life and capacity factor, and generating cost per kilowatthour. (f) A description of any electric transmission lines, including the estimated cost of the proposed electric transmission line; a map in suitable scale of the proposed routing showing details of the rights-of-way in the vicinity of settled areas, parks, recreational areas, and scenic areas, and existing transmission lines within one mile of the proposed route; justification for the route, and a preliminary description of the effect of the proposed electric transmission line on the environment, ecology, and scenic, historic, and recreational values."

To conclude on this point:
Prop. 7:* Provides that all existing reviews under local, regional, state, or federal jurisdictions be considered and evaluated by the Energy Commission in its review of solar and clean energy plants and related facilities (transmission lines).

* Includes provisions for a regulatory process (new regulations to be drafted in a public setting and with hearings, to be included in the California Code of Administrative Procedures) to further address the environmental review process of the Energy Commission for solar and clean energy plants and related facilities.

Mr. Noble, you concede that you don’t understand all the details of the initiative, but that since the NRDC and a few select environmental groups (that receive windfall funding from the utilities, see the Secretary of State’s website or PG&E’s charitable contributions page) are opposed, you are opposed too.

Mr. Noble, I regret to inform you that you have been bamboozled by the big utility shills, NRDC being chief among them. The NRDC has been wrong before. They have been wrong on utility deregulation, the electricity crisis of 2001 and they are wrong again. READ the initiative and decide for yourself.

Shocked & EnragedAug 20 2008 03:00 PM

WOW!! I had no idea about the cronyism involved, I've donated to the NRDC a couple times before, and usually looked to them and other groups when I vote on environmental issues. Well that's not gonna happen anymore. I just found out one of the Board of Directors on the CA League of Conservation Voters is a former VP @ PG & E too. I know politics makes strange bedfellows, but now I feel really naive thinking these orgs wouldn't bend to outside influenecs.

I'll still read the initiative for myself. Thank you though for all your hard research and links solar cali girl, I will be sure to forward this to friends.

ReaderAug 22 2008 05:22 PM

The claims in these comments that NRDC is doing the bidding of the utilities is the classic attack of the advocates of Prop 7 -- discrediting by association -- but it cannot be applied for the growing list in agreement with the positions listed by Mr. Noble. I HAVE read the initiative, and he's right. I'm doing a write-up on Prop 7 for the Green Party, an organization which takes no corporate donations whatsoever.

Regardless of the language of exclusion or not, what we're talking about is common sense -- when one sector gets a guaranteed market share (i.e., big solar farms), other sectors lose out (i.e., small business and rooftop distributed) because the market is not infinite. And everyone loses when innovation is stifled by the market.

This one issue alone should seal it. It is very sad that this first major solar ballot initiative is too poorly constructed to consider it, but this is the reality.

Dryan BusineAug 23 2008 02:40 AM

Actually what Solar Cali Girl says is not the 'classic attack' of anything or anyone. What SCG wrote is simply citations to academic journals and published history books that chronicle the relationship between NRDC and the utilities, including the fact that the founder of Edison (one of the million-dollar-donors to the No on Prop 7 campaign) was the founder of NRDC and contiues to be a mentor and confidante of Ralph Cavanagh of the NRDC. Fortunatey Solar Cali Girl is more transparant than 'reader' and left active links and citations.

Oh and not to make 'reader' feel bad or anyhing - but I googled "green party" and "Prop 7" and found out that the green party already endorsed Prop 7. So quit lying, utility-shill [profanity removed by Switchboard editors]!

Ian @ NRDCAug 23 2008 11:47 PM

Dryan, and all -

We're committed to a free and open conversation here, but we draw the line at profanity and "low blows." Please keep it civil.

Ian @ NRDC

Comments are closed for this post.


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