Asian Americans on both sides of Proposition 7, a measure that would expand the use of renewable energy sources, say the bill’s fate will come down to costs.
Proposition 7, or The Solar and Clean Energy Act of 2008, boils down to a battle of uneven alliances over how best to balance the urgent imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the management of cost and risk to ratepayers for generating electricity.
Prop 7 aims to expand California’s current renewable portfolio standard for utility companies to generate at least half their electricity from “clean energy” sources like solar and wind by the year 2025. The measure would bring public utilities under the current law that now mandates private companies to source 20 percent renewable energy by the year 2010.
It would then ramp it up to 40 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2025, doubling required portfolio growth from one to two percent each year while fast-tracking approval procedures and issuing penalty fees.
Prop 7 emphasizes thermal or “big solar” transmission in California’s desert areas as a viable strategy to protect energy independence, air quality, public health and the Sierra snowpack amidst global warming and climate change. In fact, both the initiative and its opposition seem to have sprung up across the state’s Sun Belt.
The measure’s sponsor – Ariz. billionaire Peter Sperling, whose father founded the University of Phoenix system – earned his bachelor’s degree at UC Santa Barbara, where three Nobel laureates in chemistry and physics also support Prop 7. Other supporters include S. David Freeman, former head of the L.A. Dept. of Water and Power and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and former state Sen. Tom Hayden.
Opposition to Prop 7 is funded by the big three investor-owned utilities – Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison and Sempra (San Diego Gas & Electric) – who have thrown in nearly $28 million to date. The long list of groups opposed shows a diverse mix who have voiced concerns ranging from less local control over energy policy to smaller companies possibly shut out of the power market or affected by higher utility costs.
Many Asian American business groups have stated their opposition to the measure.
“We’re fearful it may affect how we do business in this state,” explained Dennis Huang, executive director of the Asian Business Association in Los Angeles. “We’re seeing more and more layoffs, reducing costs. This is not the right time to be doing this. I think people want to do good and go to alternative resources … maybe one to two years from now, we can see where we’re at.”
In Northern California, however, Prop 7 supporters say time is of the essence. “Changing the way we power California is an opportunity we must take,” said Alicia Wang, vice chair of the California Democratic Party and a candidate for the S.F. Board of Supervisors. “Former Vice President Al Gore calls for a 100-percent renewable energy standard in 10 years, and Prop 7 only sets a 50-percent standard by 2025. That’s just a two-percent increase per year for the next 15 years.”
Other supporters include former S.F. supervisor Jim Gonzalez, former Vice Chair of the S.F. Building Trades Council Bill Wong and the Asian Pacific American Political Caucus, which emphasizes the environmental aspects of Prop 7 for future generations.
According to Yes on 7, “home electricity rates will not have more than a three-percent impact ($3 on an average $100 electricity bill) from the cost of using renewable energy,” while the independent Legislative Analyst Office ”issued a report indicating that the initiative has the potential to result in cost savings over the long term to the extent that the measure hastens renewable energy development.”
While some complain Prop 7 represents poorly crafted regulation that could prove a setback for cleaner energy, others decry “misleading ads” and believe that something is better than nothing as the utilities lag behind renewable goals. In an interview with the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Mark Bernstein, managing director of the University of Southern California’s Energy Institute, advised, “If you really believe you want to get renewables in there, then vote for it; if you want to hold out for better [legislation], then vote no.”