California Proposition 7: "The Solar and Clean Energy Act of 2008" -- NO

Proposition 7 has tremendous appeal on its face because it seems to force the big utilities to "do the right thing" -- to finally stop blocking the way to the renewable energy future. Unfortunately, this first major ballot initiative to address the transition to renewable energy may severely disrupt California's progress toward that critical goal. How? By establishing rules and new powers that amount to a monopoly for industrial-scale solar projects in the deserts of California. Proposition 7 will sideline emerging micro-generation technologies such as rooftop photovoltaic systems, small-scale wind turbines, solar roofing tiles, ground source heat pumps, and fuel cell storage systems.

Proposition 7 correctly underscores the urgency of the problems of global warming, climate change, and pollution, and adopts new targets for California's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) -- a quota system which stipulates what percentages of retail sales of electricity in California must come from renewable sources by target dates. Proposition 7's RPS targets of 40 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2025 considerably accelerate the current RPS targets. However, the method it imposes to achieve that goal is deeply flawed: Proposition 7's requirements of 30-megawatt sized facilities and 20-year contracts, and its limiting of public and judicial review, serve to further centralize control of energy in the hands of a few easily-corruptible entities.

Sue Kateley, Executive Director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CSEIA), has stated:

Proposition 7 contains language that could devastate small renewable energy providers in California and force them out of the market. ... This would likely drive California's small solar, wind and renewable power providers out of business, eliminating a major source of clean energy and thousands of jobs.

The language Kateley refers to is, in part, the Proposition's definition of facilities that will count toward the RPS and receive the contracts:

"Solar and clean energy plant" means any electrical generating facility ... with a generating capacity of 30 megawatts or more, ...
(Proposition 7, page 24)

Ralph Cavanaugh, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, explains:

For reasons that I still don't understand, and the campaign has never explained, they changed the definition of 'eligible renewable resource' under the California Renewable Energy Mandate... They added the phrase 'solar and clean energy,' which is the initiative brand. Solar and clean energy plants are defined as '30 megawatts of greater.'

Currently the development of the solar industry stands at a cross-roads: Will renewable energy be generated at remote utility-scale solar facilities and shipped to consumers over expensive, vulnerable power lines, or will it be generated locally on rooftops everywhere, with the grid serving merely a load-balancing role?

There are simple mechanisms that can address the same problems that Proposition 7 claims to, and they begin by leveling the playing field. For example, under current net metering rules, micro power generators -- such as homeowners and businesses with rooftop solar panels -- can zero out their bills, but receive no compensation for electricity they supply to the grid beyond the amount they use (free power for the big utilities). Assemblyman Jared Huffman's (D - San Raphael) Bill AB1920, in its original form, addressed this inequity by requiring utilities to pay micro power generators for the surplus power they provide to the grid. This same solution has fueled the explosive growth of distributed renewable energy in Germany. Even under the adverse conditions of California's net metering, the state's distributed renewable market has grown at an average rate of about 30 percent per year since 2001.

Unfortunately, while deeply-flawed initiatives like Proposition 7 (whose publicly-disclosed funding comes entirely from Arizona billionaire Peter Serling and Sacramento lobbyist and former Feinstein appointee Jim Gonzalez) receive the public spotlight, efforts like AB 1920 are silently gutted by powerful interests such as the Public Utilities Commission and PG&E.

Some specific provisions that opponents underscore about Proposition 7:

Opponents of Proposition 7 have been disingenuously described by the measure's advocates as being in the pockets of California's three big utilities, but clearly, groups like the California League of Conservation Voters, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the California AFL-CIO are not dependent on the utilities' largesse. That these utilities will contribute more than $20 million to a No on Prop7 campaign has no bearing on the fact that a broad and growing spectrum of organizations who have examined Proposition 7 agree that it is not the solution, including scores of cities, religious groups, political groups, environmental groups, and renewable technology companies.

In conclusion, the renewable energy portfolio targets of Proposition 7 are extremely unlikely to be met under its exclusionary policies, which reward only centralized industrial-scale production methods. The same targets can better be met on a level playing field that embraces, rather than excludes, the rich diversity of emerging renewable energy solutions.

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