Peevey’s Walk Down Memory Lane

2 Nov 2017

A retrospective of the Golden State’s decades-long trail blazing effort to protect the climate by slashing air pollution and curbing sprawl was presented by California’s former head energy regulator mid-week.

If California were a nation, it would rank as the 6th largest economy in the world, but yet it produces just 1 percent of global greenhouse gases.

“Those numbers tell you a story,” Mike Peevey, former California Public Utilities Commission president, said at a Power Association of Northern California luncheon held  Nov. 1.

“In California, we’ve shown there are other ways to do things.” That includes having a vibrant economy and environmental protection.

Peevey gave an overview of his new book, California Goes Green, a Roadmap to Climate Leadership, coauthored with Diane Wittenberg, former president of the California Climate Action Registry.

Wittenberg was unable to attend the PANC gathering because of a family tragedy. An Argentinian relative was touring lower Manhattan by bicycle and was among those killed on Tuesday by the van roaring down the bike lane.

“We all live on a thin thread,” Peevey reminded the audience.

Peevey was appointed to the CPUC in 2002 by Gov. Gray Davis.  A few months later, he replaced Loretta Lynch as commission president.  He was reappointed to a second six-year term by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Dec. 2008.

“I felt a need after 12 years to take pen and paper and write something down,” He added he wanted to do that “before it is too late.”

Peevey promoted long-term solar and wind deals when he was CPUC president. He also was the mover and shaker behind the commission’s California Solar Initiative, which invested $3 billion in ratepayer-funds in solar subsidies over a decade.

He also generated a lot of controversy, particularly for running roughshod over CPUC procedural rules, including restrictions on closed-door deal making with utility representatives. One meeting held in a hotel room in Poland with a Southern California Edison official framed the controversial settlement over the costly early closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The $4.7 billion agreement saddled ratepayers with $3.3 billion.

Peevey was President of Edison International and SCE. Subsequently, he was President of NewEnergy from 1995-2000.

He also created flak because he had no qualms about expressing his anger and/or contempt at stakeholders whose positions he opposed.

Like any powerful politician he also received kudos. That includes for his work to advance climate protection.

“I had a role in a lot of events” that have helped green the state, he noted.

During his Wednesday presentation, Peevey highlighted how the environmental movement rose from the terrible smog in Southern California that began in the 1940s.  During World War II, the air quality was so bad and visibility so terrible that many thought the Japanese had launched a chemical attack.

The environmental movement grew in reaction to massive growth along parts of the California coast, the proposed surge of planned nuclear plants on the coastline, and out of control sprawl.

He lauded his former bosses, Schwarzenegger and Gov. Jerry Brown for moving to clean up the power sector. He also dedicated California Goes Green to these two leaders.

Peevey pointed out how Schwarzenegger pushed through the 33 percent renewable standard and the Million Solar Roofs law, which was folded into the CPUC Solar Initiative. He also fought the Bush Jr. Administration on denying a federal Clean Air Act waiver to allow the state to implement its law curbing vehicle emissions.

Peevey credited Brown with his work during his first term as state chief for creating the California Energy Commission. He also highlighted the governor’s work to continue the public goods charge that funds clean energy research and development and low-income assistance, which was challenged by Edison, and to pass the recent carbon cap-and-trade extension legislation.

The newly created CEC took siting and planning away from the CPUC and forecasting away from the investor-owned utilities. He called those changes “tremendous factors in the growth of energy efficiency and renewables.”

Peevey credits Gov. George Deukmejian for appointing Jan Sharpless as head of the California Air Resources Board.  She helped set the first zero emission vehicle purchase requirements and faced huge opposition from the oil lobby.  Zero emissions car technology was initially a failure, but paved the way for today’s advances.

Peevey has little concern that coal and nuclear power will grow again and be imported into California because they are expensive and few want it.

He doesn’t see California reaching a 100 percent renewable energy standard because the state will reach its decarbonization goal without it.

He has no doubt that China will take over the climate protection leadership from California with its huge economy, population and commitment to solar energy and electric vehicle production.

Elizabeth McCarthy


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