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Oh the Confusion! Understanding CA Ballot Initiatives…


Summer is ending, fall is approaching and that means the election season is in full swing. Chances are good that you know the Congressional and Presidential candidates you’re going to vote for. And since you’re reading this blog, chances are even better that renewable energy is a top priority for you. Well, for those voters in California who believe renewables are important, you’re in luck. This November you have the option of voting on two major ballot initiatives that address renewable electricity and next-generation vehicles. But don’t get too excited yet – there are a lot of contradictory claims about these ballot initiatives that you should sort through before casting your ballot on November 4th.

Let’s take a brief look at each of the initiatives:

The first – Proposition 7 – is an amendment to California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that will require utilities to procure 50% of their electricity from renewables by 2025. This sounds like a wonderful law on the surface. Who wouldn’t want to set targets like that? Theoretically, it would create a robust renewable energy market for big and small players alike. But many renewable energy trade groups and environmental advocacy organizations are saying it will do the exact opposite.

There’s a big debate over how the drafters have defined eligible renewable energy systems. According to opponents, the proposed law would exclude systems under 30 MW from the RPS. Indeed, in the document, “solar and clean energy plant” is defined as “any electrical generating facility…with a generating capacity of 30 megawatts or more.” That term (solar and clean energy plant) is used throughout the entire ballot initiative, which could lead one to believe that systems under 30 MW will not qualify.

Proponents say it was not their intention to disqualify any size system or any technology. In fact, they fervently deny that the law could be interpreted as such. But opponents say it’s not about intention, it’s about clarity of language. And if the language is not clear enough, it could create a complex legal environment for producers of renewable energy who want their electricity to qualify for the RPS.

It’s impossible to say who’s right and who’s wrong. But one thing is for sure: There are many different – often contradictory – interpretations of the proposed law. Given that, it’s uncertain how a court would interpret the law if it passes. Industry representatives like to point out that there’s already enough uncertainty in the market to begin with….

The second ballot initiative is Proposition 10. Under this proposed law, California would issue $5 billion in bonds from its general fund to pay for incentives for next-generation vehicles. According to proponents, this includes plug-in hybrids, battery-electric vehicles and natural gas vehicles. Because natural gas is a big part of the initiative (and T. Boone Pickens’ company Clean Energy Fuels Corp. has thrown a few million behind it), some people see this proposition as the first step toward the national Pickens Plan.

Opponents fear that because there are no cars currently on the road that meet the “ultra high efficiency” requirements laid out in the initiative, the door will be left open for natural gas producers to jump in and take over the market. Indeed, it will be another couple of years before more battery-based vehicles hit California’s roads in full force. In the meantime, natural gas vehicles are ready today.

Proponents say there are more than enough rebates to go around and that fears about natural gas cars crowding out the market are unfounded. With 112,000 rebates unavailable to natural gas or hydrogen fuel cell cars, there’s plenty of room for all technologies to compete, they say.

That leaves the final question, which is whether or not we want to rely on natural gas – a limited fossil fuel – for transportation. The conversation around this question has gained more publicity nationally ever since T. Boone Pickens introduced his plan to the American people. Because of Proposition 10, it looks like California will be the staging ground for the broader debate.

So with all the contradictory arguments being made about what these proposed laws will do to California’s clean energy market, what should you do as a voter? Well, you could start off by reading the ballot initiatives in full. If that doesn’t suit your fancy, there are plenty of resources out there – most notably ballotpedia.org – that can give you more details about each side of the debate.

One this is for certain: The television and radio commercials are going to be coming at you in full force. Resist the temptation to be sucked in by one side’s argument based upon a 30 second ad. If you do a little reading and sort through the arguments, you will feel more comfortable when voting day arrives.

You wouldn’t pick your president based upon a television commercial, would you? Let’s hold renewable energy to the same standard.

Author: Stephen Lacey

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7 Comments

  1. Voters on initiatives need what legislators get: public hearings, expert testimony, amendments, reports, etc. The best project for such deliberative process is the National Initiative for Democracy, led by former Sen. Mike Gravel: http://Vote.org. Also http://healthydemocracyoregon.org/ and http://cirwa.org

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  2. Evan,

    yes I agree, but will the people get off their sofas, turn off the football game and take an initiative to learn about what they are voting for or even with the resources you have mentioned will they continue to make their decisions based off short TV commercials and fancy proposition titles?

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  3. Televise it then, if that’s what it takes … Evan is spot on … Sandy LeonVest
    Editor/Publisher
    SolarTimes
    http://www.solartimes.org

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  4. Sandy,

    thanks for your comment, I agree with Evan also, although I feel there are many resources such as the internet in which the American people can do research behind the propositions and politicians they vote for although it seems like the American public loves the right to vote but in general they do not understand that the right to vote also comes with a great responsibility to do homework. With people living busy and entertaining lives here in the US, how much time does it leave them to complete their homework?

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  5. Deep, By coincidence or design, these days most Americans are so tired and overwhelmed that if you don’t serve it up as entertainment, unfortunately, they’re not interested … As a radio activist on energy issues for my entire adult life, I can tell you that I go on the air and spoon feed listeners ways they can ‘plug in,’ send (ahem) PRE-WRITTEN letters to their representatives, et al … My feeling is that, while they like listening and they like getting the information, they do not do one thing with it … I struggle with this every day … Wondering if knowledge means as much as I once believed … It may not … So, I do what I do, put it out there, then go and meditate on detachment ;-)

    Sandy LeonVest
    SolarTimes
    Editor/Publisher
    http://www.solartimes.org

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  6. A big part about all this that many people find confusing is how Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs)work, and how they are already regulated. The California Power and Utilities Commission, sets energy savings goals for the IOUs, every year, and if they miss them – meaning the end-users use too much electricity, the IOUs have to pay millions of dollars in penalties – these overages are often made up with rate increases. Prop 7 forces Utilities to freeze future rate increases, and if their costs are going up based on the cost of Oil and other economic forces, on top of end user inefficiency, and IOUs can’t pass this internal cost on to Californians (end-users), people will effectively run them out of business. To put it more simply, Prop 7 will give Californians a license to use energy without consequences, while the IOUs have to eat the costs of both the penalties from the CPUC, and the internal costs of raising energy production costs. This could potentially cripple Californias existing energy distribution system, effectively having the opposite affect that it intends. Bottom line: Prop 7 is poorly written, and the contradictions within setup failures, in an already troubled regulatory system.

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  7. Sandy and Deep are right: people are overwhelmed and want to escape. BUT, when people get control over government (especially with NATIONAL ballot initiatives) they will, in time, vote for a simpler, saner world, where they will have time and attention to be more responsible citizens. It’s worked in Switzerland, but they’ve had national initiatives since 1891.

    The best project for U.S. national initiatives is at http://vote.org

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