The California utility industry counterattack against Community Choice appears to have been decisively defeated last night.
AB 2145, a bill that would have killed all further growth of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) projects in California, was gutted in a hearing at the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee. As I've written here before, the fight over the bill was an all-out, David-vs-Goliath showdown to determine whether CCAs continue providing renewable energy to local communities or whether the utility industry could rub out its much smaller, incipient competition.
Droves of supporters (mainly from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the utility workers' union) criticized CCAs harshly as fraudulent, non-green and anti-worker. Droves of opponents, from a wide cross-section of environmental groups and city governments, hailed CCAs as crucial to California's pursuit of renewable energy and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
While the bill's remaining shell was approved on a 6-3 vote and will move forward in the legislative process, it is now viewed by many environmentalists as relatively innocuous. It passed the Assembly last month and now appears likely to clear the Legislature and go to the governor's desk.
The bill's main provision had been to force all CCAs to switch from an opt-out to opt-in basis -- in other words, to require them to obtain permission from each utility customer before providing service, rather than automatically signing them up and then allowing them to opt out if they wished. This clause was removed.
Another much-criticized clause, requiring elaborate reporting of potential greenhouse gas emission for future years, was also removed.
The author of AB 2145, Assemblyman Stephen Bradford, a Los Angeles area Democrat, tried to forestall defeat by offering a compromise in which the opt-in clause would be removed in exchange for the addition of a clause restricting CCAs to one county only. But this was roundly criticized by the lawmakers on the dias, who noted that many small rural counties lack the economic and administrative resources to organize a CCA on their own. They also noted that many communities in Contra Costa County have been planning to join Marin Clean Energy, the largest of the state's two CCAs, and would be thwarted if the one-county limit were added.
In the end, Bradford backed down and accepted a three-county limit -- which most CCA supporters said afterward is relatively innocuous. The bill's amended version is not online yet, so CCA backers are not claiming victory publicly until they see the actual language.
As I wrote in a recent San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, there's a battle going on over renewable energy. Not just whether it's a good thing, because nowadays everyone in California claims to support it even if they really don't. But more dollars-and-sense questions are in play -- Who owns the renewable energy production? Who controls it? Who makes the decisions, and who reaps the profits?
So who wins -- Big utilities or local communities? Chalk up a win for the latter.