State Senator Brian Jones
Literally at the 13th hour, legislation to raise electricity rates statewide was thrown onto the Senate and Assembly Floors with a dictate from Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom, Senate President pro tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon to “take it or leave it.”
Senate Bill 846 was the very last bill the Legislature would consider in the 2021-22 legislative session that ended after 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 1.
The proponents of SB 846 included almost all Democrat legislators, many Republican legislators, the Governor himself (who twisted arms and cut deals for votes), the California Public Utilities Commission, “Public Advocate Office,” big corporations, big utilities, and Chicken Little of course.
Besides the sky is falling, the “public” reason given by many of the supporters of this so-called critical legislation was that without it, the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in San Luis Obispo was going to close, as planned, four years from now in 2026.
But a quick glance at the calendar shows we are a little over midway through 2022. Surely this closure could be handled with better planned and more thorough legislation (and hopefully some public hearings) in early 2023 rather than last minute maneuvers at 1:30 a.m. on the last night of session.
A closer look into the fine print of SB 846 reveals two very concerning things that may also factor into the reason for the big rush to pass the complex measure before too many people had the chance to read it:
1. A $1.4 billion “forgivable loan” to PG&E (the Northern California utility) is written into SB 846. Given the cozy relationships between Governor Newsom, his appointees on the CPUC, and the executives at PG&E, does anyone really think the Governor will ever force the big utility to pay back the taxpayer-funded loan? Cue up the famous line from The Godfather: "Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me." (By the way, the 2024 Presidential race is just around the corner...)
2. Hidden in Section 9 of SB 846 is authority for the CPUC to raise electricity rates for all ratepayers statewide, whether or not they receive any electricity generated by Diablo Canyon. That means whether you live in Modoc County on the Oregon border or in San Diego County on the Mexico border, you will be assessed higher electrical rates because of SB 846. Those of us living in San Diego County already pay the highest electrical rates in the nation, and they’ll go even higher with an added bill from Diablo Canyon costs.
The “all green, all the time” Democrat politicians are now being hoisted on their own petard, because they got their way earlier and closed California’s other nuclear power plants, San Onofre (near San Clemente) and Rancho Seco (near Sacramento) and were on their way to doing the same to Diablo Canyon.
What they didn’t consider was that in the process of rushing too fast to an “all green future,” they left us short of enough energy sources to avoid ongoing flex-alerts and rolling blackouts. Those aren’t good things to let happen on your watch if you’re an ambitious governor looking to run for President, so Newsom has done another flip-flop and now wants Diablo Canyon kept open.
Why was I was the only Republican and Senator to vote against SB 846, along with three Democrats in the Assembly?
Well ironically, I have always been a supporter of the safe, clean nuclear power produced by Diablo Canyon, and what used to be produced by San Onofre and many years ago by Rancho Seco. I wish the legislation on Diablo Canyon had been a straight-out extension of Diablo Canyon which I could, and would, have supported.
However, as with many things in the State Capitol, the devil is in the details. And that’s where we found the secret electricity rate hike authorization and the scheme to let PG&E avoid paying back the taxpayers’ its $1.4 billion loan.
Funny thing is this all sounds eerily familiar to Assembly Bill 1890 back in 1996 that was a so-called “deregulation” measure. It was supposed to stabilize the energy market and lead to lower rates. This complex bill was thrown together at the last minute and voted on the last night of a legislative session, with almost every Democrat and Republican legislator supporting it.
Unfortunately, a few years later the complicated scheme unraveled, caused massive electricity hikes across the state, and led to the historic recall of Governor Gray Davis.
It’s a shame when people fail to learn the lessons from history.
Expecting some of the know-it-alls in the California Legislature to get last-minute energy legislation right is like looking for fool’s gold – you’re bound to be disappointed in the end.