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Little Hoover's dim view of California's energy future

December 07, 2012|By Joseph Serna
  • Solar panels at the King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas.
Solar panels at the King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

A report by the Little Hoover Commission released Monday suggested that state lawmakers could face consumer blowback if they don’t get their renewable energy house in order.

The bipartisan panel that advises state lawmakers warned that if California doesn’t streamline its varied energy policies -- from reforming the cooling process for coastal power plants to mandating a third of the state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2020 -- rates could spike and customers would revolt.

But prices will increase in the near term regardless, the commission reported; it’s just a matter of how much. Despite claims early on that consumers could potentially pay less as renewable energy migrated into California, the report found “most agree that utility customer rates will likely rise as a result of implementing the renewable portfolio standard.”

In the long run, environmental groups and state energy officials agree that renewable energy is the way to go, provided it’s implemented carefully. Even if rates don’t go down as some thought they would, officials say the costs could be lower than they would be if California depended only on fossil fuels.

“I think it’s a mixed bag,” said Mike Florio, a commissioner on the state Public Utilities Commission, which regulates private utilities in California. “Some people romanticized it. Some say ‘I don’t want to pay more than I do now.’ This set of policies is not going to make that person happy.”

In the rush to build up California’s renewable energy base, the state signed with the few companies ready to help. Contracts were long term and expensive because they were the only game in town. With the state’s power grid desperately in need of upgrades, ratepayers will inevitably see increases no matter the power source.

“I think we’ve gotten pretty close to what we said we’d do,” said Evan Gillespie, with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “A little less than half of the solar energy jobs in the country are in California.... When you look at the total package, customers say, ‘We’re less concerned about costs; we want to know exactly what we’re going to pay” every month.


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