VIEW FROM HERE--It’s so crazy that you could mistake it for a fictional Hollywood disaster movie script titled “Firenado!”
But unfortunately it is all too real.
Governor Jerry Brown, rapacious billionaire fossil energy tycoon Warren Buffett, and monopoly utilities like PG&E, SDG&E, Edison and SoCal Gas (Sempra), are colluding to, by the end of August, shove several bills through the California legislature which will deeply undermine our local clean energy movement, set California’s climate goals back by at least a decade, and bring us more devastating fire storms caused by utility transmission lines.
First, some background. Governor Brown’s family built much of its wealth on oil and natural gas interests, including Royal Dutch Shell. Governor Brown’s sister Kathleen is on the Board of Sempra Energy whose subsidiary SoCal Gas has created and perpetuated California’s Aliso Canyon natural gas disaster. As Governor, Brown has expanded the oil fracking industry, and caved to oil and auto interests by gutting all climate regulations on the auto industry from California’s 2015 clean energy bill, SB 350. Brown has appointed former executives, attorneys, and investors, for fossil fuel energy companies like PG&E and Chevron to his administration - and to agencies like the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the California Energy Commission (CEC). Two CPUC commissioners under Brown, Michael Peevey and Mike Florio, were caught directly colluding with PG&E to diminish disaster liabilities caused by its neglected infrastructure.
Enter Warren Buffett. Since the Schwarzenegger administration, this billionaire CEO of the fossil fuel energy giant Berkshire Hathaway has been seeking to make big profits by vastly expanding an already overbuilt and fire hazardous western US long-range electricity transmission grid, through which Buffett plans to bring Berkshire Hathaway’s cheap bulk coal and natural gas based electricity into California.
But because California’s electricity grid is currently a local independent, nonprofit network, Buffett can’t do so - and that’s where Buffett’s collusion with Brown begins.
Together Brown and Buffett have maneuvered to pass AB 813, an insidious bill that would force California’s local nonprofit grid to become part of a vast corporate western US grid, run by huge fossil energy corporations like Berkshire Hathaway. This would not only privatize and fossilize California’s clean energy focused grid, but even worse, because it would make California part of a private regional grid spanning several states, under federal law AB 813 would put the rabidly pro-coal Donald Trump administration in direct control of California’s electricity grid.
Thankfully, last year, when Brown and Buffett tried to sneak AB 813 through the state legislature as a surprise bill, in the last two weeks of the 2017 legislative session, they ran into two problems. The first was overwhelming opposition from California clean energy advocates. The second was opposition from corporations like PG&E and Sempra which weren’t thrilled with the idea of competing with master profiteer Warren Buffett, and so asked Brown and the legislature to push the pause button on AB 813 so they could negotiate a deal.
This is where a proposed grand bargain between Brown, Buffett and the monopoly utilities enters the stage.
As nearly every Californian knows, the dangerous long-range transmission wires of PG&E, San Diego Gas and Electric, and Southern California Edison have triggered massive and devastating wildfires all over the state. The monopoly utilities of course want to get off the hook for the major financial liability of those wildfires. So they are pushing three bills in the state legislature SB 1088, AB 33, and SB 901, which will shift fire liability from their investors, and make their customers pay the cost instead. The implications are profound. If the big utilities and their stockholders were no longer required to pay the cost of the wildfires they create, they would not only have no incentive whatsoever to prevent such fires, they would have high incentive to build even more dangerous transmission lines (a big source of their profits). This would be the ultimate sweetheart deal for the big utilities. But, needless to say, utility customers and fire victims statewide are outraged by these bills and are mobilizing to oppose them.
Enter the grand bargain.
To overcome opposition to his AB 813 grid privatization bill Jerry Brown has put both it and the fire liability bills together on one negotiating table. Brown is seeking to gain the support of PG&E and the other monopoly utilities for AB 813, by offering them the fire liability get-out-of-jail-free cards of SB 1088, AB 33 and SB 901. Because of this cynical deal, California is now on a knife’s edge of cheap imported fossil fuel electricity completely undermining its local clean energy price competitiveness, and of a dangerous expansion of unnecessary big transmission lines that will make fire dangers even worse. (Remember, Warren Buffett wants to build more transmission lines too.)
Meanwhile Senator Robert Hertzberg, is offering his own noxious bill (SB 237) which will allow big corporations like Shell and Sempra (the latter which has donated to Hertzberg’s campaigns) to eliminate all caps on selling cheap fossil fuel energy to big commercial electricity customers in California. This would cause those customers to completely abandon our growing local community-based clean electricity programs (known as Community Choice programs) and drive those local not-for-profit programs out of business. SB 237 (just like the other bills noted above) would favor large distant fossil fuel energy sources delivered over dangerous long-range transmission lines which are preferred by companies like Shell and Sempra.
This entire conflagration of corporate Sacramento deal making is a recipe for a real life disaster movie in California.
The way to reverse the climate crisis, and end our rampant wildfires is to switch to 100% community based clean energy, delivered through local micro-grids which need no dangerous long-range transmission lines at all.
Jerry Brown, Warren Buffett, and the monopoly utilities are about to take us in exactly the opposite direction unless we stop them.
Look up your California legislators at http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov and demand that they vote ‘NO’ on AB 813, SB 1088, AB 33, SB 901, and SB 237. Tell them you don’t want your energy future handed over to the fossil fuel energy corporations which are literally seeking to burn down California.
(Eric Brooks is the Campaign Coordinator of Californians for Energy Choice, a statewide coalition working to protect and expand the local clean energy movement in California.)