California despises fossil fuels but can’t keep the lights on without them

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“The governor’s emphasis is ‘We are going to be climate leaders; we are going to do 100% clean energy; we’re going to lead the nation and the world,” said V. John White, executive director of the Sacramento-based Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies, a nonprofit group of environmental advocates and energy companies. own. “Yet at least part of this plan means going in the opposite direction.”

The plan was a last-minute addition to the state’s energy budget, which lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Legislature reluctantly passed. Supporters say it is necessary to avoid power outages like the state experienced during a 2020 heat wave. Critics see a confusing strategy on energy, not what they expected d ‘a nationally ambitious governor who has made climate action a centerpiece of his agenda.

The legislation, which some Democrats have called “ugly” and “shitty,” reflects the reality of climate change. Heat waves are already straining energy capacity, and the transition to cleaner energy is not happening fast enough to meet the immediate needs of the country’s most populous state.

Officials have warned outages are possible this summer, with up to 3.75 million California homes losing power in the worst-case scenario of a West-wide heat wave and insufficient power supply, especially in the evening.

It is also an acknowledgment of the political reality that blackouts are dangerous for elected officials, even in a party-dominated state.

Newsom pointed out that the money to prop up the power grid, part of a larger $4.3 billion energy spending package, is intended as a stopgap measure. The bill authorizes the Ministry of Water Resources to spend $2.2 billion on “new emergency and temporary generators, new storage systems, clean generation projects and funding for the expansion of operations existing production facilities, if any,” the governor said in a statement after the signing. The law project.

“Action is needed now to maintain reliable energy service as the state accelerates the transition to clean energy,” Newsom said.

After the signing, the governor asked the California Air Resources Board to add an ambitious set of goals to its 2022 framework plan, which sets out California’s path to reduce carbon emissions.

Among the changes Newsom is calling for is a move away from fossil fuels, asking state agencies to prepare for an energy transition that avoids the need for new natural gas power plants.

Alex Stack, a spokesman for the governor, said in a statement that California was a world leader in reducing pollution, and pointed to Newsom’s recent letter to the Air Resources Board as well as one sent to President Joe Biden outlining how states can work with federal government to fight climate change.

“California has taken steps to streamline permits for clean energy projects to accelerate the generation of clean energy needed to meet our climate goals and help maintain reliability in the face of extreme heat, wildfires and drought,” Stack said.

But the prospect of using state money for fossil fuels, even in the short term, has angered many of the state’s environmental groups and raised questions about the ability to California to achieve its goals.

“What’s so frustrating with an energy bill like this is that we’re at a critical time to meet those goals,” said Mary Creasman, CEO of California Environmental Voters. “And we’re investing a scale of funding in things that exacerbate those goals.”

With climate change-induced drought and high temperatures continuing to plague the West, California predicts that demand on the grid will only continue to grow. Despite more than a decade of bold moves and efforts to switch to solar, wind and hydroelectric power, the state fears it does not have enough renewable energy sources to maintain electricity in the event of a disaster. emergency right now.

The specter of blackouts poses a danger to Newsom and Democrats in general, especially ahead of November. While the governor is widely expected to sail toward re-election, the blackouts are a serious political handicap — in 2003, they were the catalyst for the recall of Democratic Governor Gray Davis. A lack of power isn’t just about people sweating in the dark, said Steven Maviglio, a longtime Democratic consultant who served as communications director for Davis, it can affect business, travel and have an outsized impact on the economy.

It’s the responsibility of any state official to keep the flow going, but unlike Davis, Newsom is under serious pressure to make sure the state adheres to its climate goals as well.

“Gavin Newsom’s brand is about climate change and clean air, so it’s a little harder for him to say ‘well, that’s not as important as keeping the power on,'” said Maviglio.

The same bill effectively ends local government control over these projects, for the time being. He hopes to accelerate the state’s production of renewable energy sources by giving exclusive authority over the location of such projects to a single state agency for the next seven years.

Environmental advocates say the state is now scrambling to fix a problem they’ve known for a long time. In 2010, California authorities set a timetable to remove a number of coastal gasworks that rely on so-called once-through cooling systems, which harm the environment, especially life. Marine. Many of these factories have been retired since 2010, but others have received extensions.

The remaining factories have various deadlines to cease operations, the closest being the end of 2023.

The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, California’s largest source of electricity, is also at fault. The Pacific Gas & Electric-owned plant is expected to close in 2025, but pressure on the grid has officials considering the possibility of seeking an extension. Newsom said earlier this spring that he would be open to extending the life of the plant. It would also require federal government approval.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 1245, a union, sees the energy package as a way to preserve Diablo Canyon and jobs at the plant.

“The value for 1,245 PG&E members at Diablo Canyon is clear – funding to keep the plant open,” the union said of the bill.

Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Los Angeles) called the bill “crappy” when it was introduced in late June, describing it as “a rushed, unverified, fossil fuel-rich response” to the need for the State to strengthen the network. .

“The state has had more than 12 years to source and bring renewable energy generation online to once replace them with gas-fired power plant cooling,” Muratsuchi said. “Yet the state has reneged on its promise to close these factories, not once, but already twice.”

Not all details of the state energy budget are final. Lawmakers still have $3.8 billion to allocate when they return Aug. 1 for the latter part of the year.

Creasman, of California Environmental Voters, said she wants lawmakers to set specific guidelines for how and where they would spend the $2.2 billion when they return in August to distribute the remaining money in the budget. Newsom and lawmakers also need to make sure this is the last time California has to spend money on fossil fuels, she said.

“California deserve to see what the plan is to make sure we’re no longer in this position of having to choose between worsening climate impacts or keeping our lights on,” Creasman said. “It’s a false choice.”

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