It’s the Capitol: Senate Dithers Over Public Goods Funds

By Published On: July 6, 2012

The Legislature declined to extend the “public goods surcharge” last year. The governor substituted the Electric Program Investment Charge. While the legality of the ratepayer charge continues to creep up in hearings—with Southern California Edison filing for a regulatory rehearing July 2—legislators are lining up bills to tweak the former public goods charge and/or tap ratepayer funds from the investment charge. The Senate Energy, Utilities, & Communications Committee July 3 weighed AB 723 by Assemblymember Steve Bradford (D-Inglewood) to extend the public goods surcharge to 2020, but it failed to get out of committee. The bill is called a “tax” by the opposition. It’s unnecessary, according to the California Manufacturers & Technology Association, which says state programs are already adequate. Bradford countered that energy efficiency programs continue to require financial support. AB 723, an urgency measure, failed on a 6-2 vote, but is to be reheard by the committee. AB 796 by Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield (D-Van Nuys) is an effort to use investment charge funds to lure businesses to remain in California. Legislators agreed that the concept is sound, but disagreed that the source of the money should come from ratepayers. The bill plays “fast & loose with ratepayer money,” said Sen. Rod Wright (D-Inglewood). He noted that it puts the state in the business of picking winners and losers among business ventures. “We’re not in the venture capital business in California,” he added. Blumenfield agreed to take the source of funding out of the proposed legislation. The vote was 10-0. Another carve out from the fund is AB 2390, by Assemblymember Wes Chesbro (D-North Coast). Saying that wildfires caused by electric lines are an ultimate cost to ratepayers, he proposes ratepayers fend off wildfires by encouraging a market in forest biomass using $20 million from the fund. “It’s incentivizing removal of forest waste,” Chesbro said. “It’s not the sexiest program,” added Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director, Independent Energy Producers. “It’s people going out and collecting [wood] and putting it in a chipper.” Proponents did not address the logistics of transportation from the roadless forests, nor the removal of what environmentalists consider important forest nutrients. Wright did note that fires, while inconvenient, are a natural part of the ecosystem. The bill passed 9-0.

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