Bills Expanding Clean and not so Clean Electricity & Transportation Resources, Advance

By Published On: April 13, 2021

Here’s the latest update on how 2021 climate and energy-related proposed legislation is faring:

The Senate Energy Utilities & Communication Committee approved a bill to speed the integration of offshore wind and long duration storage, among other emerging clean energy resources, onto the grid and into resource planning. The committee also advanced bills to expand hydrogen use in heavy-duty vehicles and to train people in the skills needed to produce electric vehicles in California. The action took place April 12.

SB 423 by Sen. Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) would promote the use of geothermal energy, offshore wind, green hydrogen, and storage that can provide energy for 72 hours or more. Geothermal provides power around-the-clock. Passed on a 10-3 vote, the bill would integrate these resources into state planning within the next 2-3 years.

The bill, according to Stern, is to prod the California Public Utilities Commission to “quickly improve reliability and resiliency” to “rebuild our grid differently.”

The bill would open up the planning and procurement processes of the CPUC, the California Energy Commission and Air Resources Board. Currently, agency modelling does not evaluate the resources in Stern’s measure.

Adding in new resources will increase grid resilience, move the state away from fossil fuels and lower costs through economies of scale, V. John White with the Clean Power Campaign told the committee.

The bill was opposed by municipal power agencies for interfering with their resource procurement.

Provision stepping on muni procurement turf removed

Stern reassured muni representatives that he amended the bill Monday in response to those concerns. That included no longer requiring the California Energy Commission to oversee public power resource planning but to only make procurement recommendations.

Also passed by the Senate energy committee this week were SB 589 and SB 662.

SB 589 by Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) would make workforce development eligible for the Energy Commission’s large Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program. Funding would become available for projects that develop in-state supply chains and the workforce for raw materials needed for zero-emission vehicle manufacturing. Possible training eligible for funding may include worker preparation for lithium extraction from geothermal plant brine at the Salton Sea. Because of the high levels of lithium in the sea, the area is now known as “Lithium Valley.”

This bill, approved 14-0, also directs the Energy Commission to consult with the California Conservation Corps and California Community Colleges on workforce development.

The bill was applauded by a company working to mine lithium from the Salton Sea.

“We need an entirely new workforce,” Derek Benson, EnergySource Minerals chief operating officer, said. Creating these needed jobs also would boost the dismal employment rate in the region, he added.

The third energy bill the committee moved was SB 662 by Sen. Bob Archuleta (Pico Rivera). It seeks to expand the use of hydrogen as a transportation fuel.

Hydrogen fuel for vehicles initially would have been considered part of transportation electrification but new legislative amendments categorize it as a zero-emissions fuel instead. This is a misnomer, however, since the bill does not prohibit using hydrogen from a fossil fuel feedstock, which is not zero-emissions. Hydrogen from fossil fuel is usually obtained from fracked natural gas.  

The bill also would allow gas utilities to recover their pipeline and other infrastructure costs from residential gas ratepayers.

The committee analysis pointed out, however, that “hydrogen could be more attractive to hard-to-decarbonize fleets, freight transportation, and other industrial uses,” including at ports. The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have hydrogen refueling operations, which have been partly funded by the CEC and Air Board.

Because of the potential cost implications to ratepayers, the bill was opposed by ratepayer advocates.

Earthjustice and others objected to the bill because it does not require cost-effective air pollution reductions.

Archuleta said having more hydrogen fueling stations would lower the fuels costs.

The author agreed to amend his legislation to avoid the shifting of costs to residential gas customers and to prohibit the hydrogen fuel from increasing emissions.

Bill to ban fracking fails

In related news, legislation that would have phased out oil and gas fracking died in the Senate Natural Resource Committee April 13. SB 467 by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) also would have required 2,500-foot setbacks between fracked wells and residences.

Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Los Angeles), and Sen. Hueso abstained, causing the bill to fall short of the needed five votes. Senators Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), Monica Limon (D-Santa Barbara), and Stern voted for the bill.

The Western States Petroleum Association said the measure would destroy the state’s oil and gas production industry and cause a massive loss of jobs.

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