In California, both advocates and critics of renewable energy are under attack.
In Los Angeles, the environmental community and the Mayor have created a furor over utility bills and renewable energy. Meanwhile, an effort to overturn the state's carbon legislation funded by a Texas oil company is not gaining traction.
Charismatic LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa saw an opportunity to capitalize on the popularity of renewables in California and solve a fiscal problem at the same time. His carefully crafted strategy began with a poll showing Angelenos are willing, in theory, to pay more on their Department of Water and Power (DWP) bills if they are paying for renewable energy.
The mayor then proposed a DWP rate hike of 2.7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kw-h) to rectify a budgetary deficit at the utility that is largely the result of dubious management decisions and volatile natural gas prices over recent years. Two cents of the rate hike would go to the deficit and 0.7 cents would go, the mayor promised, to fund an efficiency and renewables program for the city.
Some members of LA's City Council considered the proposal for about an instant and then screamed something like, "Raise rates in a recession while the state has nearly 12% unemployment!?!"
So the proposal faded and now Villaraigosa wants more stringent emergency measures. But local environmental advocates fear the effort left many citizens with the impression that renewables are somehow responsible for the city's budget problems.
Rhonda Mills, the Southern California Director of Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies makes it unarguably clear that they are not. "[The] City Council didn't reject renewables or energy efficiency in their action last week," Mills said by email. "They rejected mismanagement at the LADWP, the lack of fiscal transparency at the utility, and the absence of a sound investment plan that gets LA out of polluting coal and into clean electricity sources, like geothermal, wind andsolar"
The problem is that, as Steven Maviglio, spokesman for Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs, says the misunderstanding is now being used by advocates of the effort to roll back AB 32, California's landmark climate change bill.
A measure proposed for California's November ballot would postpone enactment of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's legacy-making law to fight climate change with a cap on state emissions, an auction of emissions allowances, a marketplace for the trading of allowances and a structure for funneling revenues from the auction to build renewable energy and energy efficiency infrastructure.
The governor believes the law's provisions would grow the state's economy. The oil companies fighting it correctly assume it would not grow their businesses.
The effort to put the measure on the ballot has raised approximately a million dollars, Maviglio says; 89% of that is oil company money and 72% is out-of-state oil money. Its supporters have tried "to link what's happening in LA with AB 32 and that's another misrepresentation...It's comparing apples and grapefruits. One thing has nothing to do with the other."
The anti-AB 32 forces are expected to get the 433,000 validated signatures needed to put the measure on the November ballot by the April 13 deadline, thanks to the oil company funding. "This could be a national bellwether on climate change," Maviglio says.
But the measure's proponents have not gotten much traction with voters. "Polling that we have shows them losing 37 to 46," Maviglio says. "A PPIC poll shows 66% approval [for AB 32] -- and I don't think Californians are going to be controlled by Texas oil money."
Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has said she will postpone AB32 if elected, a position that has been criticized by Silicon Valley execs, including fellow eBay alum Steve Westly. Check the video: