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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Et Tu, Jerry?

There have been some positive developments on the energy front recently. The California CCA Crimes Bill, AB976, was delayed for another year in the California legislature following vocal opposition from California municipalities and Community Choice activists at the legislative hearing. This is good news - no dirty tricks got through this year. Germany and Japan are learning the lesson of Fukushima even if President Obama cannot - that is a consolation anyway. And Jerry Brown has recently indicated that his administration will now focus its efforts on implementation of the new Governor's energy policy to bring an historic amount of renewable distributed generation to California's communities.

This is also good news. But Governor Brown III is going to need some new help, and some better advice than he has received recently based on his public remarks, if he is to pull anything off. He told the New York Times that "(W)hen local communities try to block installation of solar like they did in San Luis Obispo, we act to overcome the opposition." Jerry mischaracterizes the true opponents of renewable distributed generation - PG&E and the would-be power monopolies of California who appear to be advising him that environmentalists are actually the problem.

Sound new and smart to you? I remain concerned. Meanwhile, Governor Brown has remained studiously silent on Community Choice programs in Marin, San Francisco, and Sonoma, where real efforts are underway to bring real, scaled renewable distributed generation to California in a big way. There is much of Northern California looking to implement energy localization with CCA but Jerry's silence is reminiscent of former Governor Schwarzenegger, who liked to get along and go along with the big boys, make a nice speech, hang out with celebrities and super-rich, while having all the right opinions. It is political fence-sitting. Unfortunately, the governor appears to be taking a "Lite Green" approach reminiscent of former Governor (and Brown aide) Gray Davis, with an Obamasque absence of coherence that distinctly smells of PG&E, dissembling, and misdirected hubris.

Bad news started shortly after Brown's election when he hired former Number 2 at PG&E Nancy McFadden as the Number 3 in his new administration (Former PG&E Number One Peter Darbee then shortly thereafter resigned from PG&E in disgrace - largely for what he did with Ms. McFadden on Prop 16). Considering that Ms. McFadden's $46M corporate anti-CCA missile was the ultimate threat to renewable distributed generation in California last year, I could not help feel provoked by this apparent indifference to the actual outcome in California's infamous, prolonged energy policy crisis. It reeks of America's chronic political problems with corporate domination of government, and  I cannot help but think that a contradiction has begun to appear putting Brown at variance with his ambitious campaign materials on energy policy.

Having written Jerry's mayoral platform when he first ran for mayor of Oakland in 1998, I am familiar with the dynamics of forgetting campaign promises, and the Governor's saber-rattling talk about crushing environmentalists like those on the Mexican border who opposed the Sunrise Powerlink, or San Luis Obispo, where activists opposed a huge solar power plant but are actively proposing local distributed renewable generation to actually serve San Luis Obispo communities, which my company Local Power is now in fact helping San Luis Obispo County to analyze. To discuss NIMBYism out of context is dangerously misleading, because Jerry is blaming environmentalists for blocking green power when in fact his friends at PG&E are blocking it with everything they've got. This behavior is not good news for solar in California.

PG&E crushed and marginalized energy efficiency and blocked greener competition ruthlessly while Brown was Attorney General in recent years. The governor knows all about PG&E's corporate governance problem, deregulation, utility gaming and market manipulation, the bankruptcy bailouts, Prop 16 and abuse of the political process, San Bruno, and the rest. But today he shows not a sign of genuflection. He should know how to judge whether to place hope in California's mega-utilities to deliver energy decentralization in California - or to focus his mental laser beam attack on actual market barriers like PG&E that sling multi-million dollar budgets like a six-shooter, not Sierra Club volunteers defending their land.

There is scent of a bully here - and inside every bully is the heart of a coward.  If Jerry chickens out and pretends he can patsy-cake PG&E, Edison and Sempra into doing the right thing, while being tough on environmentalists! Alas, he is sadly mistaken. Gray Davis failed and was recalled because he was bullied by PG&E and the utilities, and didn't have the courage to confront bad actors and use the power he had to force real change on an industry that has totally succeeded in blocking change for decades. Instead Governor Davis tried to do a deal and fake it to the public, and got wiped off the map - will Jerry learn from Gray's Christmas Past?

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