California Assemblyman Paul Krekorian Assumes Chair of New Select Committee on Renewable Energy


Paul Krekorian VXN: Karen Bass, the Speaker of the Assembly, recently named you as assistant majority leader and appointed you as the first chair to the newly created Select Committee on Renewable Energy. Elaborate on what such responsibilities include.

Assemblyman Paul Krekorian: I am very privileged to help lead the Democratic Caucus through what will be very challenging times this year. Obviously, the budget and the fiscal emergency we face cast a shadow over everything we will do. We’re working very aggressively to come up with solutions that will help ease the pain of Californians who are hurting during these difficult economic times and seriously address the cash shortage and budget deficit that California is facing. It’s unfortunate that we haven’t gotten more participation toward achieving serious solutions from the governor and the Republican colleagues. But, the Democratic Caucus is prepared to lead, and has been leading, by developing $18 billion of budget solutions to try to address that crisis. We will continue to push forward to address these problems in a responsible way that will help ease the pain of Californians and put people back to work. I’m also very eager to continue to push forward on the policy developments that I’ve been working on with some of my colleagues to extend California’s dependency on renewable energy and to help us relieve our commitment to the use of fossil fuels. We’ve made great progress in addressing the complicated obstacles that have faced those who wish to invest in renewable energy in California, including pricing challenges, the approval and regulatory challenges of siting and transmission, and the inadequacy of California’s energy electricity transmission infrastructure. We’re trying to address all of those issues and ensure that we do so in a way that will protect ratepayers and create jobs in California.

VXN: An interview of Mary Nichols, the chair of the California Air Resources Board, will also appear in this issue of VerdeXchange News. Allow me to read you an excerpt of her first response to our question about the significance of unanimous passing by CARB’s Board of the AB 32 Scoping Plan: “The most important thing about the Scoping Plan is that it lays out clearly, with numbers and with a fair amount to detail, a mixed plan for achieving a real reduction in greenhouse gas emissions—about 30 percent by the year 2020. It’s a do-able plan that clearly indicates what the assumptions are behind it and what the mechanisms will be for carrying it out.” Some of the mechanism still needs to be evolved, which I assume the Legislature will have a role in. What are you thoughts about the significance of CARB’s adoption of the Scoping Plan and your jurisdiction’s policy input into how these plans evolve?

Krekorian: CARB’s Scoping Plan is a vitally important blueprint that tells us what we need to start building. When it comes to the electricity sector, the Scoping Plan is specific in setting a 33 percent renewable energy target by 2020 as an essential step toward meeting our AB 32 goals. That is, by all accounts, a very aggressive goal, but it is also an achievable goal. We have to make serious commitments toward not just cutting the goal, but also ensuring that we address the obstacles that have haunted us and caused us to fall short of our current goals. That’s why we’ve introduced our bill, AB 64. It makes a serious effort to address the delays in transmission siting and attempts to create a price structure that ensures that renewable energy will be cost effective and at the same time, protect ratepayers.

VXN: Chair Nichols went on to say that CARB tried to come up with a plan that balances all of the objectives: “What we tried to do was to create a plan that optimized all of those goals simultaneously, as best we could...What makes me feel the most hopeful about its lasting benefit is that at the time that we did adopt it, every major stakeholder group, even those who are the most apprehensive and most concerned said, ‘This is a good plan.’” Is that the Legislature’s assessment of the plan?

Krekorian: I can’t speak to the stakeholder input into the plan, but I can speak to the stakeholder input into AB 64. For many months now I’ve been leading stakeholder groups to try and draw their input into how we can best create a structure to achieve 33 percent or more renewable energy by 2020. I have been very gratified to have the input of all stakeholder groups in shaping that policy, and I think we’ve struck a good balance that takes into account the concerns, considerations, and objectives of all of those stakeholder groups in a balanced and workable way.

VXN: You are the first chair of the select committee. What’s the significance of the creation of this committee?

Krekorian: Renewable energy issues have traditionally been considered in the Utilities and Commerce Committee, and I hope that the speaker will see fit to allow me to continue to serve as a member of the Utilities and Commerce Committee as well, and I expect that she will. It was important to the speaker this year to create a particular focus on expanding our reliance on renewable energy. Both the speaker and Senate Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg have made it very clear that expanding our renewable energy portfolio should be among the very top of legislative priorities for the coming year. That’s why it was important to carve out this issue and to devote focused attention to it—the kind of concentrated effort and policy development that we can do in the select committee that we can’t necessarily do in the rush of business that deals with all the energy, telecommunications, and other issues that we normally hear in Utilities and Commerce.

VXN: We do this interview the day after the state PUC approved a $1.9 billion Sunrise Powerlink transmission project to bring energy from the Inland Empire and the least populated parts of California into more populated areas. This will be the subject of the Verdexchange Conference at the end of January. What are you thoughts on the challenges of transmission and renewables in Southern California?

Krekorian: Clearly, California’s transmission infrastructure is inadequate to meet our energy needs for the next several decades, renewable or otherwise. Expanding our reliance on renewable energy creates special transmission issues because, of course, the best places to generate solar, wind, and geothermal are areas that are usually quite distant from where the load is required. That means that we have to invest much more seriously in lengthy transmission lines that will extend from places like the center of the Mojave Desert to Los Angeles and San Diego and other municipal areas. We have a significant shortage of that kind of transmission to carry that load. One of the approaches that we’ve taken is to create a new agency that will be a “one-stop shop” for transmission citing and development. In fact, under the current proposal, this agency will even have the authority to issue bonds and to own transmission lines itself, which is necessary to beat California’s long-term strategic transmission needs.

VXN: Where does it make the most sense to proceed with these transmission lines and still respect the objectives and goals of the state?

Krekorian: There is a process underway now that has tried to assess, in a strategic way, the overall transmission needs of California. What we’ve tried to do with our legislation is to expand upon that process by making it enforceable and by creating structures so that those strategic decisions actually get implemented, both in terms of developing the infrastructure and also ensuring that we cite generation in an efficient way near where those transmission lines can go and vice versa. Now, one of the challenges that we’ve always faced is the multi-jurisdictional approval process that’s often required to run transmission lines. We’re trying to streamline that process and make it more efficient, while still ensuring public input and an opportunity for comment and making it so that transmission development doesn’t require the kinds of multi-jurisdictional approvals that have often led to delays and controversies.

VXN: Let’s close on the subject we began with: the budget crisis at both the state and national level, and the fears that seem to be plaguing the national markets. How are you addressing that on behalf of the speaker and Legislature, and what are the signs of hope in 2009?

Krekorian: Yesterday we approved $18 billion in budget solutions, which included painful cuts in areas that we care deeply about, as well as creative new ways to generate new revenues without overall tax increases. We thought that was a responsible way to meet California’s immediate cash emergency, because without significant solutions right now, California will run out of money within the next 60 days, and Californians will be put out of work. As you know, $16 billion worth of infrastructure projects were just put on hold this week because of the unavailability of credit. If we don’t take this problem very seriously and address it as the emergency that it is, then the problem will get significantly worse as our unemployment rates go up, as construction and infrastructure investment goes down, and as credit becomes harder and more expensive to obtain. I very much hope that the Governor will get on board, will sign the bills that we sent to him this week, and will rethink not signing these bills, because that will only set California further toward going off the economic cliff that we’re headed toward right now. These issues are very much related, because I believe that by investing in renewable energy we are going to create the kind of 21st century jobs that California’s economy is going to need to develop in order to get through this crisis and build toward its economic future. •••