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Calif. governor inks clean energy, regulatory reform bills


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Calif. governor inks clean energy, regulatory reform bills

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Gov. Jerry Brown signs a climate bill in San Francisco in July in a session filled with clean energy measures.

Source: Associated Press/Eric Risberg

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed several key clean energy and regulatory reform measures over the last week ahead of an Oct. 15 deadline to sign or veto legislation in 2017.

Among the bills signed into law was Senate Bill 338, which requires utilities and energy regulators to explore nonwires, nonfossil alternatives to meet California's peak power needs. Specifically, it calls for the California Public Utilities Commission, through the state's integrated resource planning process, to "consider the role of existing renewable generation, grid operational efficiencies, energy storage, and distributed energy resources, including energy efficiency."

"California can demonstrate that a low-cost, low-carbon grid is possible 24/7," the bill's author, Sen. Nancy Skinner, said in an Oct. 1 press release after Brown signed the bill. "With efficiency, demand reduction and energy storage, we can lessen the need to meet peak demand with fossil-fueled and other power generation." The measure, first introduced as the Clean Peak Reliability Requirement, was a response to concerns over the state's reliance on natural gas-fired peakers, Skinner said in an interview earlier this year.

The bill was part of "a very active effort during the year to continue our climate leadership in California," Kip Lipper, the chief policy adviser to California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León, said during an Oct. 4 panel discussion in San Francisco. It was a mixed year, however, for marquee measures, he added.

While the governor successfully negotiated and signed two climate bills in July to extend the state's cap-and-trade program through 2030 and regulate local air pollutants, de León's proposal to accelerate California's renewable portfolio standard to 60% by 2030 and set a 100% clean energy target by 2045 stalled in committee in legislature's final week after it became mired in negotiations over two last-minute bills promoted by Brown to merge the California ISO with transmission operators throughout the West.

"There was an attempt to leverage one bill against the other," Lipper said, calling Brown's end-of-session regional grid bills "kind of like a drive-by car shooting." Given that both Brown and de León are entering their final year in office, the policy adviser predicted the bills may return in 2018, the second half of the two-year session. "That's typically a time when people try to do legacy kinds of things, so you may see these bills coming back to life."

PACE protections, PUC reforms

Other significant energy legislation did make it to the governor's desk. On Oct. 4, he signed two companion measures co-authored by Skinner to add consumer protections to California's Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, financing program for energy efficiency and solar energy projects. PACE financing enables local governments to offer loans to property owners to make efficiency and renewable energy upgrades that are repaid through assessments on annual property tax bills.

S.B. 242 and Assembly Bill 1284 are the result of negotiations urged by Brown among consumer advocates, clean energy, environmental and financial groups. The Assembly bill enhances PACE underwriting, regulates the program statewide and enforces compliance with individual contractors, while the Senate measure adds consumer protections to PACE contracts, including an expanded "right to cancel."

"A.B. 1284 and S.B. 242 effectively create a brand-new PACE product in California — ensuring long-term viability here and serving as a model for PACE to grow responsibly in other states," Ari Matusiak, chief strategy officer of San Diego-based PACE financing provider Renovate America Inc. said in a statement.

The governor also signed a bill on Oct. 2 achieving several long-sought regulatory reforms at the PUC. S.B. 19, authored by Sen. Jerry Hill, relieves the regulator of some of its oversight of the transportation sector so it can better focus on utilities, creates an "ethics officer" and forbids utility executives from serving on the commission within two years of employment with a utility, among other reforms.

"Senate Bill 19 is aimed at ensuring that the CPUC exercises its regulatory mission with integrity and the public in mind," Hill said Oct. 2. The law includes provisions left over from a reform package partially enacted last year. The two-year ban on utility executives, however, had been sought for more than a dozen years.