Energy Industry Pushing Against Renewables, Says CA Assembly Member

Assembly member Nancy Skinner speaks in favor of K-12 school energy efficiency | Photo courtesy office of Assembly Member Skinner

California Assembly member Nancy Skinner, a strong advocate for renewable energy in the California Legislature, told a group of solar industry executives yesterday that the energy industry is mobilizing to fight renewables in Sacramento. According to Recharge correspondent Benjamin Romano, who observed the conversation in the hallways of this week's Intersolar North America conference in San Francisco, Skinner spoke bluntly about the power companies' attempts to obstruct renewables in California.

"We are experiencing a very big push-back, from the utilities, from various companies," "It's sort of like, 'Oh, you've given those renewable people too much,'" Skinner said.

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"Now we are experiencing a very big push-back, from the utilities, from various companies," Skinner continued. "There's really a huge onslaught right now in Sacramento which is anti-solar, anti-renewable energy.... The legislature right now is getting a bit shaky because they're hearing so strongly from voices that will benefit far more from sticking with dinosaurs."

InterSolar North America, a conference of solar industry representatives, wrapped up yesterday in San Francisco.

Skinner, who represents California's 14th Assembly District in the East San Francisco Bay Area, has written a number of bills promoting renewable energy development in California, including 2010's AB 510, which doubled the state's net metering program. That program is one area in which the utilities have "pushed back." In May of this year the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) clarified its interpretation of AB 510, in effect doubling the number of possible new net metering accounts, a huge incentive for property owners to install small-scale solar. Utilities were outraged, and attempted an end-run around the CPUC by sponsoring legislation that would establish a far stricter net metering policy. As the solar lobbying group Vote Solar said in a June 29 blog post,

Opponents quietly amended AB 2514 -- formerly positioned as a harmless bill to study the impacts of net metering -- into a bill that would completely reverse our net metering win. The new proposal would explicitly order the CPUC to use the cap calculation methodology preferred by the utilities - effectively halving the number of California homes, businesses, schools and other energy customers who could receive fair credit for going solar.

Despite being added to the bill in the days leading up to the July 4 holiday, a wave of protest prompted removal of the utility-friendly language from the bill.

As photovoltaics drop in cost and California's energy production inevitably becomes more decentralized, the state's large Investor-Owned Utilities increasingly see their business plans threatened. Skinner and her colleagues almost certainly haven't seen the last of this "pushback."

About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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