California officials endlessly promote this state as “leading the world in the fight against climate change.” Yet as of this writing, many Californians are in their fourth night of energy blackouts. This is leadership?
Maybe it’s time to rethink that goal of 100 percent carbon neutrality by 2045 and revisit the important triple-bottom-line questions: is it good for the environment; is it good for the economy; and does it meet social equity needs?
As a three-term member of the California Transportation Commission, former State Housing Director and now President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council, I have been on the frontlines of this battle. I know firsthand how difficult this balancing act can be, especially with a pandemic coloring every response.
Balance means acknowledging current COVID-19 challenges represent the most immediate threat to the health of residents. But this hasn’t stopped some from ignoring devastating impacts when government picks energy winners and losers in a march toward statewide electrification: a one-size-fits-none strategy that burdens families and small businesses with unaffordable and unreliable energy options at exactly the time reliable energy is needed most. This is wrong.
Recently, unions, the local gas utility and a transportation company were compelled to sue the California Energy Commission (CEC) for failing to follow California law requiring it to maximize benefits of this state’s natural gas distribution system — not just electricity.
Government’s stated favorite, electricity, is joined by single focus advocates, even some local elected officials, who demand all-electric homes and commercial buildings. I thought the final straw was last year when the chair of another government agency, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), demanded, “we must electrify our homes and buildings” despite the CPUC’s own mission to ensure Californians’ access to safe, clean, affordable utility services. No. Gov. Newsom called for importing more pricey out-of-state electricity!
And the blackouts continue.
Affordability and reliability are the reasons the CPUC exists — to help Californians struggling to make ends meet in this high-cost, high-tax state — that’s social equity.
Further, California faces an overwhelming homelessness and workforce housing supply crisis. COVID-19’s economic impacts have brought into sharp focus the heavy burden housing, transportation and utility costs place on low-income and minority communities. Yet, disciples of statewide electrification turn a blind eye to how increases in these costs will only widen California’s wealth and equity gaps.
Fortunately, a few lawmakers have noticed. On July 20, 2020, three state assemblymembers wrote the CPUC voicing concerns about statewide electrification, stating, “the Legislature has embraced all technologies that effectively reduce greenhouse gases and serve interests of our diverse residents. However, the CPUC appears to be pushing utility customers to an all-electric structure … we are unaware of any specific policy decisions or laws that declare ‘electrification’ as the exclusive policy of the state.”
These leaders speak for working Californians, “…for families and individuals who are living paycheck to paycheck, a balanced and more affordable approach is needed.”
Protecting California’s environment is part of our DNA — we love our clean beaches, fight for clean air and fabulous open space. Equally important are economic recovery and fundamental fairness to bring more into the middle class. At no time is a balanced, cost-effective and reliable approach to energy more important, leveraging existing infrastructure and technology.