California’s Electricity Regulator Feels the Heat from Community Organizations on Use of Fossil Fuel Power Plants

Heeding pressure from community-based organizations across the state, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recently revised a key decision on how to prevent blackouts that might occur this summer and next. Vote Solar’s partner, the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), along with the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA) and the Sierra Club mobilized hundreds of citizens from disadvantaged communities to protest the Commission’s proposal to use mostly fossil fueled power plants and standby diesel generators to meet high electricity demand when the weather gets extremely hot.

Faraz Rivzi, special projects coordinator for CCAEJ, shared, “We were able to encourage over 500 people from the Inland Valley (Riverside and San Bernardino Counties) of California to leave voicemail messages for the five Commissioners so that they would better understand the impact on disadvantaged communities of a decision that would rely heavily on burning fossil fuels during the smoggiest days of the year.” During the pandemic the CPUC has allowed the public to testify at their public meetings by phone including leaving voicemails. The voicemails undoubtedly had an impact on the March 25 Commission meeting.

In its proposed decision the CPUC was considering allowing aging fossil power plants to be repowered for another 15 to 20 years rather than closing. That section of the decision was eliminated.

Likewise, the Commission placed restrictions on the use of polluting diesel backup generators as part of a newly created Emergency Load Response Program that allows customers to be paid for lowering their energy use during extreme weather events. Vote Solar supported the program’s creation as a way to tap into the many energy storage batteries that have been installed in homes and businesses over the past several years. But we have opposed allowing customers to use diesel back-up generators to lessen the need for grid power because of the risks they pose to families’ health and the climate.

CEJA had put forward another proposal to reduce electricity demand which they called the Just Flex Rewards program. That program would pay low-income customers and residents of disadvantaged communities for reducing energy consumption during specific times after they received a text alert from the electric grid operator. The Commission in its final decision committed to keeping the proceeding open in order to consider the CEJA proposal.

The Commission has been dragging its heels for too long in authorizing the construction of new clean energy resources like solar, wind and batteries that would eliminate the need for this type of stopgap decision. Vote Solar intends to continue to work with CCAEJ in the upcoming Mid-Term procurement proceeding to shut down the four ancient coastal power plants in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura Counties that were supposed to close in 2020, as well as replace the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant that will be retired mid-decade.

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