Energy Agency Consolidation, Condo Solar, In New Assembly Bills

By Published On: April 9, 2010

The perennial attempt to consolidate the state’s energy agencies won backing from the Assembly Utilities & Commerce Committee April 5. The proposal under AB 2561, by Assemblymember Mike Villines (R-Fresno), however, slims down previous consolidation attempts and sets up a single new cabinet-level California Department of Energy. It transfers all California Energy Commission authority to the new department. “It’s scaled back from last year,” said Villines. “There’s one person in charge of energy issues.” He said, for instance, that taking bulk transmission authority from the California Public Utilities Commission is not in this bill. Neither is a requirement for a nine-month siting process. It passed committee 13-0. Another measure passed would allow those who live in buildings unsuited for rooftop solar installations to buy into someone else’s rooftop. AB 1947 by Assemblymember Paul Fong (D-Mountain View) permits municipal utility customers to invest in solar installed elsewhere. It is backed by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. Fong calls it “solar shares.” Customers pay a monthly fee. “Ratepayers who pay the [million solar rooftop] surcharge should have the opportunity to participate,” said Fong. “It opens up a new market.” The share program would be run by local municipal utilities. “It changes the very nature of the program,” worried Bernadette Del Chiaro, Environment California clean energy advocate. She said that the idea of Million Solar Roofs was to put the power of solar electricity in the hands of “everyday people” not utilities. The bill passed 8-4. Also on the solar legislative front, is AB 1954 by Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Oakland) and backed by BrightSource. The legislation, passed 12-0, would have the CPUC indicate early in the process of approving transmission whether it may make final approval. It also requires the CPUC to assure the transmission owner of eligibility of cost recovery. “The determination saves the developer [time and financing],” Skinner said, “going a long way to meeting renewables portfolio standard goals.” A bill requiring cross-border power plants to meet the same pollution standards as those in California was proposed by Assemblymember Manuel Pérez (D-Indio). Backed by the Imperial Irrigation District, AB 2037 prohibits utilities from contracting with cross-border generators that don’t meet the state’s environmental requirements. “Importing power from the other side of the California border impacts the quality of life,” said Pérez. The California Municipal Utilities Association opposes the bill, noting that it would be duplicative and add to time delays. The bill passed 10-4. All bills are next set for the Committee on Natural Resources.

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