News

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

It is unfair to Valley for state not to count hydroelectric power as renewable energy

BY ASSEMBLYMEMBER ADAM GRAY

Looking for fairness? Better consult a map if you’re in California.

For many living along the coast, it’s considered “fair” to make electricity more expensive in the name of fighting climate change. For people who rarely need an air conditioner, the added expense is a small sacrifice. For those living inland, where temperatures top 100 degrees eight, nine or even 30 days a year, that sacrifice is far greater.

In several Bay Area communities, where median incomes are double to nearly triple those found in adjacent Valley counties, fat incentives to purchase a $75,000 electric car seem justifiable. But in the northern San Joaquin Valley, where 85,000 people commute to the Bay Area every day, such incentives would have to quadruple to make electric cars affordable.

If your political dreams are tied to giant solar farms, you’ll need a place to sell that new electricity. No problem, just require people to use only energy you’ve anointed as “renewable.” That some of California’s most vulnerable populations live and work in the much-hotter Central Valley and will have to pay far more for that power is, well, their problem.

Such moral accommodations are not right, justifiable or equitable.

Senate Bill 100, enacted in 2018, requires that California’s public utilities switch entirely to renewable energy by 2045. Until 2030, hydropower generated at dozens of existing large-scale facilities won’t count as renewable. Why would anyone remove safe, reliable and carbon-free power from the environmental scorecard?

It’s simple economics. Large-scale hydro produces about 12 percent of California’s energy each year. Because it is generated at existing dams, the cost to create hydropower is low. The only way to make solar and wind power more attractive than hydro is to arbitrarily put large-scale hydro off limits as “non-renewable.” That forces utility providers who own dams to replace their suddenly “non-renewable” hydro with mostly higher-priced solar and wind.

That extra cost will be passed along to customers.

The heaviest burden falls on places like Modesto, Merced and Turlock, where the weather is hotter and where irrigation districts have invested millions to create clean hydropower. The districts will have to buy solar or wind power to replace their “non-renewable” hydro. Worse, when they sell their suddenly excess hydropower, it will be worth less because it’s not “renewable.”

Over the next decade, those increased costs will amount to tens of millions of dollars to Valley ratepayers.

The same dynamic will hit the entire state. San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland and Los Angeles all produce hydropower that won’t count, and all of it will have to be replaced. The state itself produces 2.3 million megawatts that can’t be counted. Pacific Gas & Electric has 26 hydro facilities that don’t qualify.

Some insist this is a necessary sacrifice to save the planet. That’s not true.

If every electron consumed in California was generated at a hydropower plant, we’d have the cleanest, least-polluting, most reliable power supply in the world. A study from the University of Stuttgart, Germany, showed hydropower is the cleanest power available; solar ranks fourth.

Refusing to recognize hydro as renewable won’t do a darned thing to save the planet. It won’t cut carbon emissions, make California’s air cleaner or our electrical grid more reliable. But it will push up prices.

The environmental movement, which pushed for SB 100, simply ignores its own hypocrisy. The Sierra Club applauded wildly when the state of Washington passed a clean-energy bill similar — but not identical — to California’s this year. In Washington, the state’s vast hydropower supplies are counted as clean and renewable.

I have asked the Assembly to put the question of hydropower’s status as renewable energy on the ballot and let voters decide how to count it. Knowing that’s a long shot, we’re also taking steps to go directly to voters.

The horrifying effects of climate change are clear. No one wants to turn back the clock and see power plants spewing fossil-fuel emissions. We’ll be delighted when California is using 100 percent renewable energy — including hydro.

Until that time comes, we shouldn’t be asked to waste our hydropower or pay higher prices for electricity that is no cleaner than what we’re already producing at dams up and down the state.

It’s not just about fighting climate change. It’s also about fighting for fairness. The poorest people in California shouldn’t have to pay more so that others can profit.

Monday, September 9, 2019

In going after Trump, California is going too far with environmental legislation

By Adam Gray, Special to CalMatters

California has made a sport of disagreeing with President Trump. 

When he tweets his favorite color is red, one of my progressive colleagues inevitably introduces a bill declaring the best color is blue. 

So it was somewhat surprising when legislative leaders decided to use the President’s worst habit—ignoring real science and concrete facts—as a model for priority legislation. 

Senate Bill 1 by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins would require that California ignore new scientific findings on natural resources and water issued after January 19, 2017, the day before the Trump took office. That’s not an exaggeration. The date is actually listed in the bill 21 different times.

We cannot advance the fight for environmental quality by declaring that all science stopped on a specific date. If it’s dumb for the President to close his eyes to science, it’s dumber for us to follow him down that rabbit hole.

But SB 1 is not just dumb, it’s dangerous. 

This bill jeopardizes the most significant progress the state has made in solving its most contentious water problems. At the direction of Gov. Gavin Newsom, senior administration officials have worked diligently to update the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan without the bitter battles of the past. 

They are working on voluntary agreements on the San Joaquin and Sacramento river watersheds that will help native fish species without destroying the future of farming in California.

If enacted, SB1 would shred those agreements, destroying the goodwill that has allowed the process to develop.

When the state created the Bay-Delta Plan in 2012, it relied on data and studies that were at least a decade old and mostly outdated. 

Much of what we’ve learned since has profoundly altered our understanding of survivable water temperatures, predators, and habitat needed for salmon to spawn and grow large enough to migrate to the ocean. 

The voluntary agreements in the works since December 2018 would allow us to make decisions informed by the most accurate and modern scientific understanding of the effects of flow, temperature, habitat, and predation on the restoration of salmon populations.

But SB 1 would force the state to discard the new data and walk away from those agreements. That, in turn, would force water district officials to walk into courtrooms to protect their rights.

Other aspects of SB1 are just as misguided. The state is considering changes to the State Water Project’s operational rules. Those changes would be better for salmon and smelt in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. But SB 1 would force the state to stick to procedures that contributed to the decline of these very species in the first place.

The implications of SB1 are profoundly disturbing, forcing the state to ignore evolving science. If Texas had passed a similar law when President Obama was elected, the proponents of SB 1 would have been first in line to condemn placing politics over science. They should look in a mirror.

We’ve got until Sept. 13 to either kill or fix this wrongheaded bill. If we don’t, it very well could set back progress on our rivers for decades.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Modesto and Turlock made it onto the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times a few days ago, but not for reasons we might hope.

They’re paying attention to legislation in Sacramento that would make a rule addressing climate change a little more fair for us, meaning customers of the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts. That asinine rule already has cost everyone buying electricity or farm water from either utility tens of millions of dollars.

Friday, June 7, 2019

When California embarked on its quest to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as a global model to stave off climate change, its first target was the state’s electric power industry.

A series of ever-tightening decrees required utilities to shift from coal, natural gas and other carbon-based sources to a “renewable portfolio,” eventually reaching 100% non-carbon sources by mid-century.

The acceptable alternatives were specified in law, dominated by windmills, solar panels and geothermal wells. But for purely political reasons, the list omitted two power sources that are both free of greenhouse gases and renewable: large hydroelectric dams and nuclear plants.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Two long-vexing problems confronting our Valley — not enough doctors, and not enough clean drinking water — could be addressed by innovative legislation that we urge Sacramento legislators to embrace by Friday’s budget deadline.

Although the Valley is a great place to raise families, we have trouble luring medical professionals. Did you know the Bay Area enjoys 411 doctors for every 100,000 people, while the San Joaquin Valley struggles with only 157? The statewide average, by the way, is 237.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Assemblyman Gray criticizes water board, says Delta-Bay Plan hurts struggling communities

About 80,000 people in Merced and Stanislaus counties can't drink water from their tap without risking their health, according to clean water advocates who spoke on Friday, May 11, 2018. BY THADDEUS MILLER

After the state Water Resources Control Board said its Delta-Bay Plan would not have “significant” effect on the drinking water of disadvantaged communities Assemblymember Adam C. Gray, D-Merced, blasted the board members for what he said was their lack of concern for impoverished and minority communities.

Gray recently introduced Assembly Bill 637, which requires the board to identify disadvantaged communities and mitigate impacts to the drinking water supplies serving those communities. The bill also requires the board to hold public hearings in or near those communities.

“It should be the rule – not the exception – that impacted communities are able to make their voices heard,” Gray said on Wednesday.

The water board did not immediately return requests for comment.

There are 17 communities in the 21st Assembly district where wells have recently tested positive for harmful toxins. About 80,000 people in Merced and Stanislaus counties can’t drink water from their tap without risking their health, according to clean water advocates.

They draw those numbers from records provided by the State Water Resources Control Board.

The Delta-Bay Plan requires water entities including the Modesto, Turlock, Oakdale and Merced irrigation districts to sacrifice 40 percent unimpaired river flows, allowing it to go to the San Francisco Bay Area from February through June. That leaves less water for agriculture and city water customers in the Central San Joaquin Valley.

Sending that water would have an adverse effect in areas that already struggle with water quality, Gray said. He argued the board should follow the same rules as the federal government.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton issued an executive order prohibiting federal agencies from discriminating against and ignoring impacts to low income and minority communities.

“Any rational person would agree that advancing a plan which devastates impoverished neighborhoods, degrades drinking water, and openly ignores impacts to some of the most vulnerable communities in the state should be against the law – but the Water Board is not rational,” Gray said.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

When the the State Water Resources Control Board voted to adopt the Bay-Delta Plan, it ignored the direction of former Gov. Jerry Brown and current Gov. Gavin Newsom to pursue voluntary agreements with our irrigation districts. Many saw this as an act of defiance by former chair Felicia Marcus, the executive director, and many of the activist staff.

While Newsom has made swift progress towards rebuilding trust with water users, in part by removing the former chair from the board for her actions, it takes time for reforms at the top to trickle down to the hundreds of staff who actively urged the board’s action.

Since then, Eileen Sobeck, the executive director of the board, submitted a proposal to the United States EPA requesting “review and approval” of the revised salinity objectives included in the Bay-Delta Plan.

While the Bay-Delta Plan exceeds 3,500 pages, the board’s entire submittal for federal approval was nothing more than a couple paragraphs and a chart. The letter made absolutely zero mention of the 40% unimpaired flows approved by the board last December.

Ten years of hearings, a myriad of reports and meetings, millions of dollars in staff and consultant costs, and thousands of public comments should not be subjected to review according to the board’s letter.

Adoption of the Bay-Delta Plan by the EPA based on a single letter would be a profound act of irresponsible government. That the board’s executive director would ask the federal government to take such action is the height of bureaucratic arrogance.

Even more troubling however, is the board’s failure to acknowledge the voluntary agreements being negotiated by our irrigation districts and water users. Many of these negotiations have reached agreements already, and the others are headed in that direction.

By sending an approval request without full and comprehensive information, the water board staff are undermining the good-faith relationship Newsom has established with our region. The federal government should reject this sorry excuse for a proposal.

Democrat Adam Gray represents Assembly District 21, which encompasses Merced County and portions of Stanislaus County.