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California passes flurry of bills, but transmission questions remain

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Henry Craver's picture
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As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

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California’s state legislator has been putting in work. In the final days of their legislative session, Cali lawmakers have passed an impressive number of bills related to the grid, and climate change more broadly. 

Assembly Bill 1279 formally codifies Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2018 proposal to reach carbon neutrality by 2045. A flurry of other bills passed recently fit into this broad goal. Senate Bill 1020 puts the state on track to hit 90% renewable energy and zero carbon energy by 2035, and 100% by 2045. SB 529 and SB 1174 seek to streamline transmission upgrade approvals, thus alleviating bottlenecks in the sector. 

While California has never lacked spirit when it comes to carbon cutting, sometimes the state has overlooked important fundamentals of the green revolution. In recent years, the state’s lack of foresight has come into plain sight. Despite all of the new clean energy, the state had to initiate rolling blackouts in 2020 for the first time in two decades. Regularly of late, hard times have forced the state to fall back on fossil fuels, which kind of defeats the purpose of a big renewable buildout.  

Sb 529 and SB 1174 should lead to improvements in the state’s transmission infrastructure. However, it’s unclear if they’ll really pave the way to quickly get California’s power infrastructure up to pace with renewable development. 

Different transmission elements have been heavily affected by the post-pandemic global supply mayhem. Price increases of various parts differ by region, but apparently it’s pretty bad in California. This article on route-fifty.com details how the situation is affecting an area in northern California: 

“In recent months, though, utilities have been reporting wait times of over a year to get transformers, and say costs have skyrocketed from $3,000 to $4,000 per transformer before the shortage, to more than $20,000 each now.  

In a booming town like Roseville, California, north of Sacramento, the transformer shortage threatens to slow the pace of new subdivisions being constructed. The city has been adding about 1,800 homes a year, which would require roughly 180 transformers to service them.”

Even if sitting processus are streamlined, insane prices like the ones highlighted above will sideline upgrades. 

And there still remains a big problem facing all transmission projects across the country. Ill-fitting democratic mechanisms that allow loud minorities to sideline projects that would benefit the masses. 

This problem was explained in a very good Atlantic article earlier this year: 

“The community-input process is disastrous for two broad reasons. First, community input is not representative of the local population. Second, the perception of who counts as part of an affected local community tends to include everyone who feels the negative costs of development but only a fragment of the beneficiaries.

Not everybody is a complainer, but pretty much everyone who shows up to community meetings is. Katherine Einstein, David Glick, and Maxwell Palmer, Boston University political scientists and co-authors of Neighborhood Defenders, examined zoning and planning meetings across Massachusetts. They found that a measly 14.6 percent of people who showed up to these events were in favor of the relevant projects. Meeting participants were also 25 percentage points more likely to be homeowners and were significantly older, maler, and whiter than their communities.”

California is not immune to this problem. The recent controversy over an important solar farm plan is indicative of potential uproars over transmission projects:

“Conservationists say the state should modify desert relocation protocols under the current drought. Laura Cunningham, biologist and co-founder of Basin and Range Watch, said the tortoises get lost and confused when moved from their home range.”

The same conservationists I’m almost positive drone on about adopting renewables just don’t want those renewables in the places they care about. Can you imagine how they'd react to transmission lines? 

Hopefully, California’s efforts to speedup transmission development will work. If not, the state is bound to disappoint on its ambitious carbon neutral goals.

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