No on California Props 7 and 10

Today the San Diego Union Tribune displayed some common sense by arguing against two ballot initiatives which, on the surface, seem like great ideas. Proposition 7 will increase California’s renewable portfolio standard for electricity to 50% by 2025. Proposition 10 will subsidize natural gas vehicles, in order to encourage use of this abundant domestic resource.

In their editorial, however, entitled “No on Props 7 and 10,” the editors state these “energy measures are ill-conceived fiascos.” They are absolutely right, and in their editorial the writers provide a useful summary of the problems with these two well-intentioned but completely impractical measures.

Regarding Proposition 7:

“Proposition 7′s key flaw is how it imposes absurd, unrealistic new deadlines for a massive shift away from present energy sources by 2025 – changes that would put a radical burden on Californians and Californians alone. It also inexplicably shuts out many smaller alternative-energy suppliers and mandates the use of long-term contracts that would make price competition among suppliers nearly impossible.”

Regarding Proposition 10:

“How does it make sense to float 30-year bonds to pay for [natural gas] vehicles that would last just a few years? How does it make sense to have the $50,000-per-vehicle subsidy available on a first-come, first-served basis sure to be gamed by interstate trucking companies that don’t even have to use the vehicles in California? Proposition 10 supporters have no good answers to these obvious questions.”

There is nothing wrong with encouraging renewable energy development, as proposition 7 attempts. But California is already on track to develop 25% renewable electricity by 2025, and the state legislature may increase that objective to 33%. These are extremely aggressive goals. Why isn’t there a proposition on the ballot requiring utilities to purchase surplus energy from private property owners – perhaps at prevailing rates less a discount to allow the utility some profit margin (to pay taxes and reinvest – in case the socialists among us are wondering) and also to cover transmission and distribution costs? Similarly, there is nothing wrong with developing natural gas and natural gas vehicles. It’s a great idea. But not via 30 year bonds.

Both of these propositions are deeply flawed not only because they propose unrealistic financing mechanisms and impractical (if not impossible) deadlines, but because they allow powerful vested interests to game the system. Price fixing under long term contracts and exclusion of small operators are fatal flaws in Proposition 7. Allowing out-of-state trucking interests to capitalize on a bond financed by Californians is a fatal flaw in Proposition 10.

Ultimately, however, it is a failure of leadership within the environmentalist – and energy indepence – communities that leaves us with only these two very poor options. We need to encourage renewable energy and we need to encourage natural gas vehicles. But not via these two propositions. Vote no on both of them.

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