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Capitol Alert

Republicans say they have a way to prevent PG&E power shutoffs: Halt this Democratic law


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California Gov. Gavin Newsom is not the only one fed up with PG&E’s latest round of power shutoffs.

Republicans representing the area affected by last year’s deadly Camp Fire are calling on the utility to spend more money to harden its grid and buy better equipment.

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But the mechanism for their proposal is unique: Temporarily halting a popular state law Democrats passed last year requiring California to get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2045.

State Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Tehama, and Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, argue that PG&E is spending $2.4 billion a year to comply with Senate Bill 100 — money they feel could be better used to prevent future wildfires and 10 years of continued power shutoffs. They also think the company is already well on track to meet its obligations, given 85 percent of its electricity comes from renewable and greenhouse gas-free sources.

“Why are we continuing to force them to pay billions of dollars of ratepayer funds buying more renewables when we could take those dollars to make their infrastructure safer for all of us who are experiencing this?” Gallagher said. “This is smarter climate policy.”

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The latest proposal comes as firefighters battle the Kincade fire in Sonoma County. While state investigators have yet to reach a determination about the cause of the fire, PG&E has said it experienced issues with transmission lines located close to its origin.

Conservatives argue that California lawmakers have sought to push PG&E into using more sustainable energy rather than ensuring its power grid is in good shape. The Wall Street Journal editorialized last week that “California’s return to the dark ages is a direct result of the Democratic political monopoly in Sacramento.”

Democrats say privately owned utilities have been more interested in making money for investors than prioritizing safety. They say it’s all the more important now to prepare for climate change because it has contributed to the hot, dry conditions that result in wildfires.

“As it relates to PG&E, it’s about dog-eat-dog capitalism meeting climate change,” Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week. “It’s about corporate greed meeting climate change. It’s about decades of mismanagement.”

PG&E said in a statement that it’s focused on working with state officials to restore power to customers affected by the shutoffs. “There will be a time and place to discuss policy proposals, but right now our full attention is on safety.”

Kevin de León, the state senate’s former leader and author of the bill Gallagher and Nielsen want to halt, said renewable energy sources are often cheaper than natural gas or coal alternatives. He worries the Republican proposal would increase PG&E’s operating costs and give the utility even less money to spend on improving its infrastructure. He also thinks undoing SB 100 would prevent the state from reaching its climate change goals.

“Changing or repealing California’s landmark 100 percent clean energy law is like giving snake oil to a sick patient in a hospital,” de León said. “It does nothing to help cure the problem and would set us back decades in our efforts to reduce the devastating impacts of extreme weather patterns like the ones we are facing right now.”

California has long sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. De León’s bill accelerated the pace at which utilities needed to migrate toward renewable energy sources. In 2006, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, which set a goal for 33 percent of energy to come from renewable sources by 2020.

De León thinks shareholders competing for control of the company should be the ones responsible for paying for the upgraded equipment.

Nielsen and Gallagher announced on Monday that they’ll introduce the proposal when state lawmakers return to Sacramento in January. They’ll also propose a resolution calling on a federal bankruptcy court to rescind PG&E’s most expensive renewable energy contracts.

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