It’s the Capitol: Bills Improving Efficiency Program & Pipeline Safety Advance

By Published On: April 8, 2011

Legislation seeking to curb shoddy building energy efficiency retrofits and bogus appliance efficiency claims passed the Senate Energy Utilities & Commerce Committee April 5. Other bills to direct more ratepayer dollars towards non-residential solar project subsidies and reduce the risk of natural gas pipeline accidents were approved. Also this week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 50 by Assemblymember Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo). The bill exempts funds provided to victims of the Sept. 9, 2010 Pacific Gas & Electric natural gas blast from taxable gross income. In addition, SBX1 1 by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) providing $8 million to fund green technology training academies was sent to the governor’s desk. The bill, passed by the Senate April 1, seeks to curb the state’s high school drop-out rate through clean energy job training and also build up the green jobs workforce. During this week’s Senate energy panel hearing, SB 454 by Senator Fran Pavley (D-Santa Monica) was approved on an 8-2 vote. It bolsters the California Energy Commission’s role in the enforcement of energy efficiency appliance and building standards. According to the senator, 90 percent of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning efficiency upgrades in buildings are done without requisite permits and are substandard. There is “widespread violation and fraud in appliance efficiency” certifications, Pavley added. State regulators approved spending $3 billion of investor-owned utility ratepayer funds between 2010-12 to attain 10,000 GWh of saved energy/negawatts and 200 million therms of natural gas savings. Public power agencies also have energy efficiency programs (Current, April 1, 2011). The rampant violation of energy efficiency building and appliance standards “makes it impossible for the state to meet its energy efficiency goals and poses safety risks,” Pavley pointed out. The Energy Commission in the last four years received complaints about “HVAC systems not working correctly, houses not constructed to Title 24 standards or building departments not enforcing the standards,” said commission spokesperson Susanne Garfield. “Several complaints said that contractors did not pull permits, duct testing was not completed, poor workmanship on HVAC installations, and that counties were not enforcing Title 24 standards,” she added. SB 454 requires utilities to verify that an efficiency building retrofit was permitted before handing out rebates. Currently, Southern California Edison and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District require proof of permits before approving any negawatt rebates. The increased enforcement given to the Energy Commission under SB 454 was weakened prior to this week’s hearing to appease builders and realtors. Giving it enforcement authority over building efficiency retrofits was controversial, in part because it was seen as duplicative of the California State Licensing Board’s and Attorney General’s authority. Instead the Licensing Board is to work with the Energy Commission to tap into its efficiency expertise. Elsewhere, the Attorney General is attempting to finalize an agreement involving investor-owned utilities, the Energy Commission, California Public Utilities Commission, and the State Contractors Licensing Board to ensure compliance with the state’s energy efficiency rules. Pavley’s bill heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It also is to be reheard by the Senate energy committee. Legislation to fund depleted subsidies for commercial and government solar energy installations also won approval by the Senate energy panel on a 10-1 vote. Senator Christine Kehoe’s (D-San Diego) SB 585 requires residential ratepayers to pay an additional $170 million into the $3 billion California Solar Initiative to replenish the investor-owned utility portion of subsidies for larger photovoltaic systems. PG&E and San Diego Gas & Electric non-residential subsidies have been used up. Edison’s solar incentives are expected to run out at the end of the year. The funding was allocated quicker than anticipated because this subset of solar incentives is performance-based and the systems performed better than expected (Current, March 11, 2011). Utilities received $2.2 billion in subsidies to add 1,940 MW of new solar power by 2016. The CPUC was criticized for its handling of the solar initiative program, including redirecting $40 million to the industrial and governmental solar projects, instead of halting it when funds ran out. Residential ratepayers pay 55 percent of the cost of the California Solar Initiative--once known as the Million Solar Roofs program--but receive 33 percent of the program benefits, according to ratepayer advocates. “You’re asking residential ratepayers to shell out an additional $85 million to subsidize large commercial installations. Let the commercial side of program pay the additional costs,” insisted Lenny Goldberg, The Utility Reform Network lobbyist. The bill is supported by environmental organizations, solar advocates, and utilities. Senator Alex Padilla, committee chair, said the bill would be amended to address the disparate rate impacts. It is to be heard next by the Senate Appropriations Committee. SB 216 by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) seeks to thwart a repeat of the delayed shut off of the gas line that exploded in San Bruno that killed eight people and destroyed more than three dozens homes. According to Yee, “There was no quick and efficient way to shut off the gas” in the PG&E pipeline that blew last September. Yee’s legislation requires owners and operators of pipelines regulated by the CPUC to install automatic shut off valves or ones that are remotely controlled. This would require the replacement of hundreds of valves, which would require local permitting. The bill is being reworked to try and avoid delayed permitting impacts. It passed on an 11-0 vote and heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. SB 44 by Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) directs gas companies to provide fire fighters and the police with current information on their gas pipelines, including maps showing their locations and pressure levels. It passed on an 11-0 vote. Lastly, a reintroduced bill requires a detailed process for determining the need for and selection of liquefied natural gas terminals along California’s coast. “The bill has nothing to do with whether you’re an advocate or opponent,” said Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), SB 37’s author. “It’s about the fact there is no process for thoughtful consideration of LNG project siting.” It passed on an 8-to-3 vote and is to be heard next by the Appropriations Committee.

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