Community Columns

California’s climate programs have inequities we shouldn’t ignore

By Anna Caballero

Since being elected to the California Legislature, my mission has been to author and fight for legislation that bridges the gap in the inequities many Central Valley and rural Californians face.

Recently, the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle have taken an interest in my Senate district, and a bill I introduced to recognize that clean, zero-carbon hydropower from the locally owned and operated Don Pedro Project should be counted toward the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation District’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requirements. The RPS program has been around for decades and in 2018, new renewable energy requirements were passed into law with Senate Bill 100. The bill requires 60 percent of the energy our state’s utilities purchase for distribution to ratepayers comes from renewable sources by 2030, and establishes a new policy of 100 percent zero-carbon electricity by 2045.

My Senate district knows first-hand the impacts of climate change to our water supply, and the goal of zero-carbon energy is prudent. However, the current system creates economic inequalities, especially for rural Californians, and the fact is hydropower is as clean and green as solar and wind. The science is clear. The current process of picking winners and losers in renewable energy technology hurts our communities, forcing ratepayers to pay for power we do not need, while discounting the carbon-free resource we already own and pay for. In fact, there are certain times of the day where we are literally paying other states to take our excess solar power.

My bill would simply allow the two oldest irrigation districts in the state to count the hydro facility they own as renewable, saving ratepayers from spending hundreds of millions of dollars on power the districts don’t need. My bill does not open the flood gates or unravel the RPS program by allowing all large hydro to count.

Ownership of the Don Pedro hydroelectric facility and reservoir is what makes TID and MID unique; unlike most other utilities in the state, our customers own the generation (not shareholders or utility companies from the Northwest) and they shouldn’t be punished by biased state laws that take from rural communities for no good reason.

Opponents of my bill are trying to stir up opposition, making outrageous claims that counting all large hydro in California as RPS would dramatically alter the program and hurt the renewable energy industry. But that is not what my bill does, and opponents know that, but they choose to mislead and confuse to further subsidize some sources of clean energy over others. Power generated at the Don Pedro Project makes up only two-tenths of 1 percent of California’s in-state electric generation. Obviously, such a small amount isn’t going to noticeably impact the state’s flourishing renewable market, but to my constituents and the customers of TID and MID this change is significant, especially for ratepayers of limited means – farm workers and blue collar workers.

Scare tactics and fear-mongering by the opposition, by the Chronicle editorial board, and even by former legislators (none of whom are from rural California) who are directly pressuring my colleagues in Sacramento, about unraveling the entire RPS structure, makes for effective political theater and keeps the author of SB 100 in the news. But it is not based on good science, or facts — it is all rhetoric and hyperbole. My bill eschews that type of politics, and instead calls for the state to treat my district honestly as I work to be an effective steward of my fiduciary obligation to my constituents.

Intimidation tactics and falsification of my record have never swayed my position. I asked the author of SB 100 for these amendments last year when I was in the Assembly and was told that he did not need my vote. I voted no on SB 100, not because I do not support 100 percent renewal energy, but because good science should be used, not junk science.

I will not be swayed when fighting for my constituents. We pass thousands of well-intentioned laws in Sacramento, but it is our responsibility as lawmakers to acknowledge when our laws need to be adjusted, to right systemic wrongs that negatively affect our rural communities. Clean energy is clean energy.

Anna Caballero, a Salinas Democrat, represents the 12th Senate District, which includes parts of Stanislaus and Merced counties.