Capitol: Gov. Backs Extending Public Purpose Program

By Published On: August 26, 2011

Following months of legislative debate over the fate of the multi-million dollar ratepayer-funded energy efficiency and renewables public goods program, the state chief said he was sponsoring a bill to extend its life to 2020 to spur clean energy and job development. “This is the first time I get to weigh in on the public goods charge,” Gov. Jerry Brown said during an Aug. 25 press conference. The bill must be acted upon by Sept. 9. The state chief’s effort is duplicative of bills moving ahead in the Capitol. A measure by Assemblymember Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), AB 1303, reauthorizes the Energy Commission’s public interest renewable and efficiency funding program for another eight years, from 2012 to 2020. Another measure, AB 723, by Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood), chair of the Assembly Utilities & Communications Commitee, continues the ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs run by the California Public Utilities Commission to 2016. A third bill by Senator Alex Padilla (D-San Fernando Valley) is in flux. His original bill, SB 35, would have repealed the public goods charge but failed to pass out of a key Assembly committee (Current, July 1). Because of procedural rules, the bills are to be renumbered. The governor and other lawmakers are working closely to advance a “strong public goods program,” Williams told Current. “We see eye to eye on how to move forward to promote renewable energy and good paying green jobs.” Williams expects the reauthorization of the program to be parceled out in several bills. The public goods program, which funds renewable and energy efficiency research, must be reauthorized by a two-thirds vote in the Legislature before the end of this year or expire because it constitutes a tax that requires a super majority. The governor’s legislation reauthorizing the public purpose program is one prong of his three-part jobs growth package introduced Aug. 25. It’s entitled the Clean Energy Jobs and Investment Act. It aims to promote clean energy technologies that “maximize job creation and regional sustainability, strengthen California businesses and economic competitiveness, and provide multiple benefits to ratepayers.” To help ratepayers, it aims to lower power costs by cutting the need for new power plants, transmission, and distribution systems. Helping overcome barriers to energy storage, renewable energy integration into the grid, and expansion of electric vehicles are also legislative goals. Brown’s proposal not only continues, but also augments the California Energy Commission’s $62.5 million/year renewable energy program and $62.5 million/year Public Interest Energy Research program to $75 million each. It also renews and increases the $228 million/year California Public Utilities Commission program aimed at energy efficiency programs and measures, increasing funding to $250 million. These efficiency funds are separate from the $3 billion regulators are allowing the private utilities to spend to increase customer energy savings over a three-year period. The programs “have helped California maintain its place as the leader of innovation, bolstering California’s clean tech industry and providing more jobs, while moving the ball forward in energy research and efficiency research and technological advancements,” stated Robert Oglesby, Energy Commission executive director. The public goods program faced considerable criticism during several legislative energy committee hearings held earlier this year. Padilla, head of the Senate Energy, Utilities, & Communications Committee, and the Legislative Analyst’s Office both raised questions about its cost-effectiveness and payoff to ratepayers. A key issue was high third-party administrative costs. The Energy Commission told lawmakers the program’s effectiveness has been hampered by statutory limitations and no direct requirement that it help promote the state’s renewable mandate (Current, March 4, 2011). Brown acknowledged criticisms about the program, noting it was being “fine tuned.”

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