Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown wants to integrate California’s power grid with surrounding states in order to reach its climate change goals, but the plan could have the opposite effect and result in the state depending on more fossil fuels.
Before he leaves office, Brown hopes to push through an ambitious transformation of his state’s electric grid system. Assembly Bill 813, a bill the governor has been pushing since 2017, calls for replacing California’s grid operator with a system that manages the entire West. Why do this? The environmentally focused governor believes such a system will enable the state to reach its greenhouse gas reduction targets.
An interconnected grid already stretches across the western U.S., but it’s managed by separate regional and state operators. California’s grid is currently managed by the state’s Independent System Operator.
Brown is proposing that a new, multi-state system take its place and manage the grid operations for numerous other states in the West. The goal would be to utilize renewable energy sources more efficiently.
For example, California could export its solar power during the day and import Wyoming wind energy at night when the sun is gone.
“Renewable energy is not going to really make sense beyond a certain 30, 40 percent without a regional grid. So I think where there’s a few obstacles — which I don’t need to bore you with — there are just that kind of vulgar politics which I’m so attracted to,” Brown said in November 2017 during a New York Times clean energy conference.
However, many environmentalists and legal experts — not too bored to look at the obstacles — believe the plan would actually result in California using more coal at the end of the day.
The issue mainly pertains to California ceding authority to other states and federal regulators — entities that don’t always share the same renewable energy goals. California has some of the most stringent clean energy mandates in the entire country, but if it enters into contractual agreements with more coal-friendly states, like Utah or Wyoming, these policies could be challenged.
Out-of-state energy regulators could appeal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which enjoys a Republican majority under the Trump administration.
The proposal has divided environmental groups. The Sierra Club and the Food and Water Watch are against it, but the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council are opposed to it.
Labor groups — a major source of Democratic support and money — have also opposed the bill, believing it will move tens of thousands of construction jobs out of state.
Despite stalling in the state legislature in 2017, the grid integration bill has regained momentum during the 2018 legislative session. Brown is also backing legislation that would mandate California use only renewable and clean energy sources by 2045.
If passed, the new mandate would pivot California even further away from neighboring states in its clean energy use.