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California and the West

Legislators to Promote Energy Conservation

Proposals include tiered rates to penalize heaviest users and helping to replace inefficient appliances.


SACRAMENTO — As state legislators push to stabilize electricity rates and bring new power sources online, a slew of conservation proposals is quickly materializing as another way to help solve the state's energy crisis.

The proposals, which range from replacing old air conditioners with energy-efficient new ones to instituting tiered rates that penalize voracious users, are among myriad ways that legislators believe that demand for energy in California can be brought more in line with the state's inadequate supplies.

"Every kilowatt-hour saved is one less that has to be found," said Sen. Byron Sher, the Stanford Democrat who heads the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

Sher has introduced a nearly $1-billion conservation measure, SB 5X, containing 19 programs aimed at reducing consumption by 1,500 megawatts, about the amount of energy produced by a large generator.

Gov. Gray Davis, who according to a spokesman has taken to wearing a sweatsuit in his Sacramento home and lowering his thermostat to a brisk 58 degrees at night, has also emphasized conservation.

But he has committed a more modest sum--$404 million--to advance energy savings, including $75 million in rebates to people who trade in energy-guzzling appliances for efficient models and $95 million to encourage businesses to replace old equipment.

The Davis plan would essentially double state conservation spending, with the goal of cutting usage by 10%, in part by forcing retailers to slash their outdoor lighting during off hours.

In addition to Sher's measure, Davis is reviewing a proposal by Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga. The Brulte bill, SB 17X, would create a tax break to cover 75% of what it cost taxpayers to buy and install solar energy systems on their properties. Republicans would also like to give consumers who reduce their aggregate power usage by more than 10% either a tax break or a rebate.

The proposals were included in a plan floated by GOP legislators last week that tilted heavily toward creating new supplies.

"We're not able to in fact conserve our way out of the problem," Assemblyman Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks) said at a news conference.

The debate over supply versus demand brings to light key philosophical differences among legislators, with some conservative members of the Legislature arguing that vast sums of public money would be better spent bolstering supplies.

Republican Sen. Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks said it would be a huge mistake for conservation to be used as an excuse to not increase supply. He believes nuclear and hydroelectric power cannot be ignored.

"The state's energy policy must be predicated on clean, abundant and cheap electricity," McClintock said. "Conservation doesn't achieve any of those goals; supply does."

Not everyone shares McClintock's approach.

"I think it's fortunate that Mr. McClintock's view on nuclear power is in the vast minority," said Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).

Jackson is considering introducing legislation that would promote the use of renewable power such as solar or wind energy through tax credits, loans or other financial incentives.

"I don't think we need to take the panicked reaction that we just need to build, build, build," she said.

Added Barry Nelson of the Natural Resources Defense Council: "One of the lessons of the energy crisis is the reinforcing of the environmental community's message that we should not try to simply develop new supplies to solve our energy needs. We need to meet those needs by focusing first on conservation."

Other conservation-related proposals include:

* Legislation introduced by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) would establish a public power authority that could finance conservation efforts. The authority, for example, could establish a loan program to help consumers buy energy-efficient appliances. The bill is SB 6X.

* Homeowners and small business owners could qualify for a tax credit to recover up to 100% of the cost they incur buying energy efficient equipment if it reduces their year-over-year natural gas and electricity use by 5%, under a measure, AB 15, by Assemblyman Rod Pacheco (R-Riverside).

* A measure for low-income families that would provide them or their landlords with incentives to install energy-efficient appliances was introduced Monday by Assemblywoman Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) and Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles).

The $200-million proposal would establish "exchange centers" to arrange the pickup of old refrigerators, air conditioners and clothes washers and to offer grants, loans or tax credits toward the purchase of energy-efficient replacement appliances.

The measure, AB 29X, also calls for $50 million to help consumers buy and install solar panels and $25 million for small businesses to do the same with so-called real-time meters, designed to induce customers to reduce usage at times of peak prices.

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