CAISO Expansion Bill Dies in Committee

A measure to expand CAISO into an RTO for Western states failed to clear the legislature for the third time in three years.

AB 813 languished in the Senate Rules Committee, where it was sent Aug. 16, and never made it to the Senate floor during the last night of the State Legislature’s 2017-18 session Friday.

The measure would have initiated the process of changing CAISO’s governing structure from one controlled by Californians to a multistate enterprise.

Previous efforts to authorize CAISO’s expansion have stalled during the past two years in the face of strong opposition both inside and outside of California. (See CAISO Regionalization, 100% Clean Energy Bills Fizzle.)

“AB 813 was a missed opportunity for Western states to modernize the grid and promote new clean energy investments,” Lauren Navarro, senior policy manager for the Environmental Defense Fund’s California Clean Energy initiative, said in a written statement. “While we are disappointed AB 813 didn’t pass, we remain committed to supporting the state’s efforts to integrate more renewables and removing barriers to regional energy trading.”

“The world looks to California for clean energy leadership and we remain dedicated to encouraging the state to lead by example,” Navarro said.

The measure had the strong support of CAISO and was a priority for Gov. Jerry Brown. (See Gov. Brown Reaffirms Commitment to Expanded CAISO.)

Some labor unions opposed AB 813, arguing it would reduce in-state renewable energy construction projects and siphon jobs from California.

The bill divided environmentalists, some of whom believed an integrated Western grid would hasten the switch to clean energy regionally. Others, including the Sierra Club, opposed linking California’s cutting-edge energy efforts to the coal-burning states of the interior West.

Publicly owned utilities, such as the Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District, also opposed the measure.

Barry Moline, executive director of the California Municipal Utilities Association, told RTO Insider last month that the Western Energy Imbalance Market is already doing a good job of allowing energy trading as needed among Western states without building new transmission from wind farms in Wyoming or solar farms in Arizona to consumers in California. (See CAISO Regionalization Bill Cast on Uncertain Course.)

“I don’t buy the argument that we have to regionalize to take advantage of opportunities elsewhere,” Moline said.

Others contended the regional grid was needed to allow clean energy to be traded and allocated further in advance than the EIM allows. California’s solar energy peaks during midday, when in-state energy use is low, while solar arrays and wind farms in the interior states come online during California’s times of high consumption. Trading renewables would benefit all involved, proponents argued.

“We need to be able to operate the system as a congruent whole,” said Carl Zichella, Western transmission director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the bill’s main proponents.

Zichella remained hopeful this week that the bill would escape the Rules Committee and be taken up for debate on the Senate floor. Recent amendments imposed a nine-month waiting period for the bill’s provisions to take effect, giving the legislature and new governor time to review any proposed changes in CAISO’s governance.

Brown is nearing the end of his last term as governor, and some critics said it would be unfair for his successor to be denied input on such a sweeping plan, Zichella noted.

In the end, however, the amendments were insufficient to quiet the controversy that has long surrounded the regionalization effort, and the bill died a quiet death in the Rules Committee.

 

CAISO Expansion Bill Dies in Committee, by Hudson Sangree. RTO Insider, September 1, 2018.

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