IN THIS ISSUE – “Time Has Come to Mend, Not End”
- Environmental Concerns Drive CA Voters…Who Back Newsom
- National Dems Open 2020 Campaign: “We Haven’t Found Our Sea Legs”
- Golden State Hits Greenhouse Gas Target Amid Concerns
- State Water Commission OKs $2.7 Billon for Storage – Will Dams Ensue?
- LA DWP Studies Hoover Dam As World’s Largest Battery
Capital News & Notes (CN&N) harvests California legislative and regulatory insights from dozens of media and official sources for the past week, tailored to your business and advocacy interests. Please feel free to forward.
FOR THE WEEK ENDING JULY 27, 2018
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Environmental Concerns Drive CA Voters…Who are Supporting Newsom
Nearly all California likely voters say the candidates’ positions on the environment are important in determining their vote in the governor’s race, according to a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). Democrat Gavin Newsom leads Republican John Cox in that race by 24 points.
A majority of likely voters (56%) say the candidates’ environmental positions are very important in determining their votes—the largest share to express this view since PPIC first asked likely voters the question in 2006 (44%). Another third of likely voters (31%) say candidate positions on the environment are somewhat important. Across party lines, 67 percent of Democratic likely voters say the candidates’ environmental stances are very important; about half of independents (54%) and a third of Republicans (33%) hold this view.
Newsom, the lieutenant governor, leads businessman Cox 55 percent to 31 percent among likely voters today, with 9 percent undecided. Preferences follow party lines, with 86 percent of Democratic likely voters favoring Newsom and 84 percent of Republicans favoring Cox. Newsom leads among independents, 41 percent to 33 percent. A solid majority of Latino likely voters (64%) and about half of white likely voters (49%) prefer Newsom. (Sample sizes for Asian American and African American likely voters are too small for separate analysis.)
Underscoring Californians’ views about the importance of environmental issues, adults in the state are much more likely than those nationwide to say that global warming is extremely or very important to them personally: 62 percent of California adults express this view, compared to 48 percent of American adults in a June ABC News/Stanford/Resources for the Future poll.
A majority of the state’s likely voters (57%) say global warming poses a very serious threat to the economy and quality of life in California, and a strong majority (69%) say that the effects of global warming have already begun. A large majority of likely voters (66%) say they are very concerned that extreme weather—when thinking about the possible effect of global warming in California—will result in more severe wildfires.
Drought and water supply are named most frequently when likely voters are asked about the most important environmental issue facing the state today (24%). The proportion of likely voters expressing this view has dropped sharply in the last two years (43% in July 2016). A large majority of likely voters say the supply of water is a big problem (60%) or at least somewhat of a problem (25%) in their part of California. Across regions, Orange/San Diego residents (55%) are the most likely to say the water supply is a big problem where they live, while San Francisco Bay Area residents (43%) are the least likely to say so.
In November, Californians will vote on an $8.9 billion bond measure, Proposition 3, to fund water infrastructure projects. A majority of likely voters (58%) plan to vote yes and a quarter (25%) no (17% undecided).
“The drought and water shortages are still on Californians’ minds,” Baldassare said. “They seem willing to support a water bond on the November ballot after passing a multibillion-dollar water bond measure in June.”
The second most frequently named issue among likely voters is air pollution (15%). Two-thirds say air pollution is a problem in their part of the state (29% big problem, 37% somewhat of a problem). Residents in Los Angeles (40%) are the most likely to say it is a big problem and those in Orange/San Diego are the least likely (17%). About half of likely voters (53%) say air pollution is a more serious health threat in lower-income areas than elsewhere in their part of the state.
The governor’s race results are similar to PPIC’s July poll from the 2014 gubernatorial election, when Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown led Republican Neel Kashkari among likely voters, 52 percent to 33 percent, with 11 percent of respondents undecided. Brown ultimately won that election with 60 percent of the vote.
Despite holding a 24-point lead, Newsom’s team played down the poll.
“Our campaign isn’t taking anything for granted, and we will continue to work hard to get our message out between now and Election Day,” spokesman Nathan Click said in a statement.
Likely voters in the Inland Empire supported Cox over Newsom, and the candidates were nearly tied among Central Valley respondents, but Newsom racked up large margins in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and Orange and San Diego counties.
Cox has focused his message to voters on repealing the recent gas tax increase and other affordability issues, making an appeal to “forgotten Californians” who feel left behind the government’s dominant Democrats.
Leading moderate Democrats forcefully argued this week that the party can embrace a robust agenda of change while still praising capitalism and downplaying income inequality.
In other words, everything the empowered liberal base has spent a year and a half mobilizing against.
Democrats gathered here in Ohio’s capital city in what was an opening salvo of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, part of a conference organized by the center-left think tank Third Way.
The longtime Washington-based group was unveiling the findings of a year-long assessment launched after the 2016 election, hoping to convince potential presidential contenders that they don’t have to adopt the hard-left agenda and style of a Bernie Sanders progressive.
Included in its report were a dozen big-picture policy recommendations — such as adopting a robust apprenticeship program and expanded unemployment insurance to help workers find new jobs — and encouragement to bypass talk of income inequality for an emphasis on creating opportunity.
Third Way officials even attempted to remove the “moderate” moniker from the event, encouraging those in attendance to call themselves “opportunity Democrats.” (The event itself was labeled “Opportunity 2020.”)
“Once again, the time has come to mend, but not end, capitalism for a new era,” said Jonathan Cowan, Third Way’s president, in a sweeping speech outlining his group’s study.
The group’s recommendations will be met with skepticism — if not outright derision — by many Democrats and liberals, who argue the party has been ill-served by a more modest, incrementalist approach. (Third Way officials counter that although their platform is different than a Sanders-style agenda, ideas like a proposed employer-funded pension system would be radical changes in their own right.)
And indeed, even many of those on hand in Columbus — a few hundred congressmen, Democratic officials, and local politicians — needed convincing that the rest of their party was interested in this approach.
“There is no question there is a lot of volume and emotion and energy around the more activist wing of our party,” said Jim Himes, a Democratic congressman from Connecticut and chairman of the New Democrats, a coalition of business-oriented party members on Capitol Hill.
The party’s more moderate voices, he told reporters, were at risk of being “drowned out” if they didn’t start speaking out more.
Few Democrats would disagree with Himes’s assessment: Just last month, the victory of avowed democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shocked longtime Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in New York shocked the party and ushered in a wave of predictions that future Democratic candidates would mimic Ocasio-Cortez’s platform and style. On a policy front, once-fringe issues — such as the adoption of single-payer health care and a federal jobs guarantee for every citizen — have moved into the party’s mainstream.
Poll data from 2016 would suggest Third Way’s approach has some merit: A Gallup poll from October 2016 found that voters thought Trump was actually less less conservative than prior GOP nominees. Clinton, meanwhile, was seen as as liberal as former President Barack Obama.
Of course, liberals argue that energizing the party’s base is of paramount importance, especially in the age of Donald Trump.
The more centrist approach advocated at the conference, those in attendance acknowledged, will face skepticism for many reasons. A party left devastated after the last presidential election is dead-set on looking for big, bold ideas, and Third Way officials say it’s hard to compete on that front with liberals advocating a total overhaul of the health care system.
Any effort to rebrand the party reminds Democrats of the approach advocated by former President Bill Clinton in the early 1990s, when he pulled the party in a more moderate direction on social and economic issues. Third Way rejects the idea that it’s trying to do the same thing now, arguing that they are instead advocating for an entirely new approach.
“Let’s be clear,” Cowan said. “80s supply-sidism, 90s centrism and 60s socialism will not cut it for the era we’re in. We need something new and different.”
Many of those in attendance were careful not to directly criticize Ocasio-Cortez, saying they welcomed the new energy she was bringing into the party. But they also made clear that they thought her style of politics would be a difficult sell outside of her New York City congressional district, where the party must try to win over more conservative voters.
Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, vice president for social policy and politics at Third Way, said a poll conducted by the group found voters — including many Democrats — responded more positively to a message that emphasized creating economic opportunity over income inequality. The opportunity message, she said, “trounced the other Democratic approaches on the table with the voters we need to win in a general election.”
Other Democrats in attendance were harsher in their assessments of the party’s liberal wing.
“A small but vocal subgroup that is unhinged from evidence will be wrong in the long run, regardless of how loud they are,” said Iowa state Sen. Jeff Danielson, in an interview.
Danielson hails from a conservative-leaning district in northeast Iowa and says he’s managed to win re-election there by adopting an approach similar to the one advocated by Third Way. Many of his constituents would see Ocasio-Cortez’s agenda and think it amounted to nothing more than a “grievance list,” he said.
But he’s not sure other members of his party will listen to his advice.
“We don’t know what we want,” he said. “We haven’t found our sea legs as a party.”
California hit its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels four years early, a milestone regulators and environmentalists are cheering as more proof that you can cut pollution while growing the economy.
But a closer look at data released by the state Air Resources Board shows that while emissions from electricity generation in California have plunged, other key industries are flat and transportation pollution is increasing.
Further complicating matters is a Trump administration plan to weaken fuel economy standards and revoke California’s power to set its own, stricter rules — a move that could cause vehicle emissions to rise even more.
The uneven progress shows the big challenges that loom as California advances toward its more ambitious goal: slashing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions another 40% by 2030.
Growth in renewable energy was the main reason California met its 2020 climate goal in 2016, the emissions reportreleased this month shows.
“We’ve seen a substantial increase in solar and wind power, particularly rooftop solar installations,” says Dave Edwards, chief of the Air Resources Board’s greenhouse gas and toxics emissions inventory branch.
Driving the shift is early compliance with the state’s mandate that 33% of electricity come from renewable sources by 2020 and the falling cost of solar panels, which has spurred more commercial and rooftop installation. By 2016, the state was already at 46% renewable electricity. Solar electricity grew 33% in 2016, while natural gas decreased by more than 15%.
California also got an assist from the weather. After five years of punishing drought, rains swelled rivers and generated more hydroelectric power. During drier years, the state relied more on natural gas.
Overall, the growth in renewables combined with waning imports of coal power to send emissions from electricity generation plunging 18% in 2016 compared to 2015.
Now for the downside.
Emissions from cars and trucks, already California’s biggest source of greenhouse gases, have been on the rise for the past few years in step with post-recession economic growth. Increased driving is the main reason why transportation pollution ticked up another 2% in 2016.
“The deep reductions from electric power generation are compensating for lackluster performance in other sectors of the economy, including an uptick in the transportation sector where we know we have our work cut out for us,” said Alex Jackson, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council who tracks California climate policy.
To blame for the increase in vehicle pollution is a combination of low gas prices, a growing economy, consumers’ preference for roomier, less efficient vehicles and a slower-than-anticipated transition to electric models. Those factors are essentially wiping out gains from the state’s emissions-cutting regulations.
In another impending obstacle, the Trump administration is expected this week to release its plan to scrap aggressive Obama-era fuel economy standards, according to sources familiar with the proposal. The administration’s move would also take away the authority granted to California and other states under the Clean Air Act to continue pursuing those stricter standards.
The rollback would be an enormous hit to the state’s efforts to clean its air and slow global warming by eliminating the current goal of getting cars and SUVs to meet fleet-wide averages of more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025. Instead, gas mileage targets would be frozen in place in 2020.
A drawn-out legal battle is likely. California and other states have already sued the administration to prevent the weakening of clean car rules.
Slashing car and truck pollution is crucial because other key sectors of the economy, such as oil refineries, residential heating and agriculture, saw greenhouse gas emissions remain relatively flat or even rise slightly in 2016.
State regulators say that in itself is a triumph. Pollution from transportation and industry, they contend, would have been much higher without California’s climate change policies, which functioned as a lid keeping emissions in check even as its economy grew.
Air Resources Board officials played down the significance of rising car and truck pollution. Instead they are crediting measures such as cap-and-trade and the low-carbon fuel standard — market-based programs the state is using to push industry to cut pollution and shift to cleaner transportation fuels — with preventing emissions from rising even higher.
“All the indicators we’re looking at are moving in the right direction,” Edwards said. “We think that we’re on the right trajectory right now toward 2030.”
For now, California’s reductions in greenhouse gas emissions remain modest, and are broadly consistent with a nationwide decrease in recent years. The trend across the U.S. is the result of an economic shift: We’re getting less electricity from dirty, coal-fired power plants and more from cheaper, lower-polluting natural gas.
Yet while California’s greenhouse emissions dipped below 1990 levels in 2016, the national rate remained 2.4% above 1990 levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
And though California’s electricity grid is powered increasingly by renewables, it was cleaner than the nation’s to begin with. California’s per-capita greenhouse gas emissions today are about half that of the nation as a whole. And they keep dropping, from a peak of 14 metric tons per person in 2001 to 10.8 in 2016.
That was viewed as an obstacle when California adopted its landmark 2006 climate law, AB 32, which enshrined the goal of cutting greenhouse gases below 1990 levels by the year 2020. At the time, industry and other critics argued that California’s relatively clean power grid would make its climate goals painful and prohibitively costly to reach. That fear, regulators and environmentalists say, has now been proven wrong.
To reach its tougher 2030 goal, however, California will have to pick up the pace and roughly double its greenhouse gas reductions. That feat, environmentalists say, will require not only a cleaner electrical grid but a rapid shift to zero-emission vehicles powered by it.
“Looking at the electricity sector 10 years ago, solar in that time went from exotic to conventional,” says Jimmy O’Dea, senior vehicles analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “And that’s where we’re at with electric vehicles going forward. They’re going to go from exotic to conventional in a short period of time.”
(Julian H. Lange / Los Angeles Times)
A state commission on Tuesday approved $2.7 billion in funding for a variety of water storage projects across California, but the money doesn’t guarantee that any of them will be built.
The California Water Commission action was part of a complicated new process designed to depoliticize awards of state water bond funding by judging projects according to stringent guidelines that some of the biggest projects had trouble meeting.
High-profile projects such as the Temperance Flat dam proposal on the upper San Joaquin River lost out, winning a fraction of what backers wanted and throwing the project’s future into doubt.
Proponents of another big dam project, the Sites Reservoir in Northern California, walked away with less than a fifth of what they will need to construct an off-stream reservoir that would store water piped from the Sacramento River.
“We do not have the money lined up to do this project,” Jim Watson, general manager of the Sites Project Authority, told commissioners.
Two smaller Bay Area dam projects fared better. The Santa Clara Valley Water District was awarded half of what it needs to expand a small reservoir on Pacheco Creek.
The Contra Costa Water District also won half of the cost of raising a dam and expanding Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County.
The commission spread storage money beyond traditional reservoir projects.
In Southern California, the Inland Empire Utilities Agency was awarded $207 million to expand the Chino Basin water recycling program and reduce the region’s use of imported supplies from Northern California.
Two groundwater storage projects in Kern County — the Kern Fan Groundwater Storage Project and the Willow Springs Water Bank — also won funding.
In the Sacramento region, bond money was earmarked for the South County Agricultural Program to help pay for a project to use recycled wastewater to irrigate cropland.
Still, under conditions of the Proposition 1 bond, the eight funded projects can’t actually collect most of their state money until they have obtained environmental permits and contracts for additional funding.
If they fail to meet those requirements by 2022, they will lose their award.
The funding process was a departure from the traditional distribution of storage money, which has tended to reward recipients with the most political muscle.
Proposition 1 mandates that the state in most cases can pay for no more than half of a storage project’s total cost.
And the state money can be used to underwrite only a project’s public benefits, such as recreation, flood control and ecosystem improvements.
Moreover, half of the state share has to pay for ecosystem improvements in the watershed of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the environmentally troubled center of California’s water delivery system.
Although many of the commissioners wanted to give more money to the Sites and Temperance Flat proposals, they couldn’t after the state Fish and Wildlife Department found the projects would not improve conditions for imperiled salmon runs on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.
California Water Commission summary:
Hoover Dam helped transform the American West, harnessing the force of the Colorado River — along with millions of cubic feet of concrete and tens of millions of pounds of steel — to power millions of homes and businesses. It was one of the great engineering feats of the 20th century.
Now it is the focus of a distinctly 21st-century challenge: turning the dam into a vast reservoir of excess electricity, fed by the solar farms and wind turbines that represent the power sources of the future.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, an original operator of the dam when it was erected in the 1930s, wants to equip it with a $3 billion pipeline and a pump station powered by solar and wind energy. The pump station, downstream, would help regulate the water flow through the dam’s generators, sending water back to the top to help manage electricity at times of peak demand.
The net result would be a kind of energy storage — performing much the same function as the giant lithium-ion batteries being developed to absorb and release power.
The Hoover Dam project may help answer a looming question for the energy industry: how to come up with affordable and efficient power storage, which is seen as the key to transforming the industry and helping curb carbon emissions.
Because the sun does not always shine, and winds can be inconsistent, power companies look for ways to bank the electricity generated from those sources for use when their output slacks off. Otherwise, they have to fire up fossil-fuel plants to meet periods of high demand.
And when solar and wind farms produce more electricity than consumers need, California utilities have had to find ways to get rid of it — including giving it away to other states — or risk overloading the electric grid and causing blackouts.
“I think we have to look at this as a once-in-a-century moment,” said Mayor Eric M. Garcetti of Los Angeles. “So far, it looks really possible. It looks sustainable, and it looks clean.”
The target for completion is 2028, and some say the effort could inspire similar innovations at other dams. Enhancing energy storage could also affect plans for billions of dollars in wind projects being proposed by the billionaires Warren E. Buffett and Philip F. Anschutz.
But the proposal will have to contend with political hurdles, including environmental concerns and the interests of those who use the river for drinking, recreation and services.
In Bullhead City, Ariz., and Laughlin, Nev. — sister cities on opposite sides of the Colorado, about 90 miles south of the dam — water levels along certain stretches depend on when dams open and close, and some residents see a change in its flow as a disruption, if not a threat.
“Any idea like this has to pass much more than engineering feasibility,” Peter Gleick, a co-founder of the Pacific Institute, a think tank in Oakland, Calif., and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, internationally known for his work on climate issues. “It has to be environmentally, politically and economically vetted, and that’s likely to prove to be the real problem.”
Using Hoover Dam to help manage the electricity grid has been mentioned informally over the last 15 years. But no one pursued the idea seriously until about a year ago, as California began grappling with the need to better manage its soaring alternative-electricity production — part of weaning itself from coal-fired and nuclear power plants.
In California, by far the leading state in solar power production, that has sometimes meant paying other states to take excess electricity. Companies like Tesla have gotten into the picture, making lithium-ion batteries that are deployed by some utilities, but that form of storage generally remains pricey.
Lazard, the financial advisory and asset management firm, has estimated that utility-scale lithium-ion batteries cost 26 cents a kilowatt-hour, compared with 15 cents for a pumped-storage hydroelectric project. The typical household pays about 12.5 cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity.
Some dams already provide a basis for the Hoover Dam proposal. Los Angeles operates a hydroelectric plant at Pyramid Lake, about 50 miles northwest of the city, that stores energy by using the electric grid to spin a turbine backward and pump water back into the lake.
[Read more: It’s tricky to store energy on an industrial scale, but engineers have devised clever workarounds.]
But the Hoover Dam proposal would operate differently. The dam, with its towering 726-foot concrete wall and its 17 power generators that came online in 1936, would not be touched. Instead, engineers propose building a pump station about 20 miles downstream from the main reservoir, Lake Mead, the nation’s largest artificial lake. A pipeline would run partly or fully underground, depending on the location ultimately approved.
“Hoover Dam is ideal for this,” said Kelly Sanders, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Southern California. “It’s a gigantic plant. We don’t have anything on the horizon as far as batteries of that magnitude.”
Sri Narayan, a chemistry professor at the university, said his studies of lithium-ion batteries showed that they simply weren’t ready to store the loads needed to manage all of the wind and solar power coming online.
“With lithium-ion batteries, you have durability issues,” Mr. Narayan said. “If they last five to 10 years, that would be a stretch, especially because we expect to use these facilities at full capacity. It has to be 10 times more durable than it is today.”
Mr. Narayan said he felt the Hoover Dam project should be given serious consideration because pumped-storage projects had been tested and proven for decades. In a comparison with lithium-ion batteries, he said, “I think the argument is very good.”
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the nation’s largest municipal utility, says its proposal would increase the productivity of the dam, which operates at just 20 percent of its potential, to avoid releasing too much water at once and flooding towns downstream.
Engineers have conducted initial feasibility studies, including a review of locations for the pump station that would have as little adverse impact on the environment and nearby communities as possible.
But because Hoover Dam sits on federal land and operates under the Bureau of Reclamation, part of the Interior Department, the bureau must back the project before it can proceed.
“We’re aware of the concept, but at this point our regional management has not seen the concept in enough detail to know where we would stand on the overall project,” said Doug Hendrix, a bureau spokesman.
If the bureau agrees to consider the project, the National Park Service will review the environmental, scientific and aesthetic impact on the downstream recreation area. If the Los Angeles utility receives approval, Park Service officials have told it, the agency wants the pumping operation largely invisible to the public, which could require another engineering feat.
Among the considerations is the effect on bighorn sheep that roam Black Canyon, just below the dam, and on drinking water for places like Bullhead City. Some environmentalists worry that adding a pump facility would impair water flow farther downstream, in particular at the Colorado River Delta, a mostly dry riverbed in Mexico that no longer connects to the sea.
Another concern is that the pump station would draw water from or close to Lake Mohave, where water enthusiasts boat, fish, ride Jet-Skis, kayak and canoe.
Keri Simons, a manager of Watercraft Adventures, a 27-year-old rental business in Laughlin, said water levels already fluctuated in stretches of the Colorado close to the river towns. The smaller Davis Dam, just north of Laughlin, shuts off the flow overnight.
One morning this year, the water level just outside town dropped so low that you could walk across the riverbed, Ms. Simons said. “We couldn’t put any boats out until noon,” she said. “Half the river was a sandbar.”
Even if no water is lost because of the pumping project, the thought of any additional stress on the system worries Toby Cotter, the city manager of Bullhead City.
The town thrives on the summer tourism that draws some two million visitors to the area for recreation on the greenish-blue waters, Mr. Cotter said. “That lake is the lifeblood of this community,” he said. “It’s not uncommon to see 100 boats on that lake.”
Environmentalists have been pushing Los Angeles to stop using fossil fuels and produce electricity from alternative sources like solar and wind power. And Mayor Garcetti said he would like his city to be the first in the nation to operate solely on clean energy, while maintaining a reliable electric system.
“Our challenge is: How do we get to 100 percent green?” he said. “Storage helps. There’s no bigger battery in our system than Hoover Dam.”
But old wounds are still raw with some along the Colorado. A coal-fired power plant in Laughlin that the Department of Water and Power and other utilities operated was shut down in 2006, costing 500 jobs and causing the local economies to buckle. And a decision long ago to allot Nevada a small fraction of the water that California and Arizona can draw remains a sore point.
“There’s nothing going on in California with power that has given people who are dealing with them any comfort,” said Joseph Hardy, a Nevada state senator. “I think from a political standpoint, we would have to allay the fears of California, Nevada and Arizona. There will be a myriad of concerns.”
The decision to close the coal plant angered many residents. They wanted the utility to simply add emission-control features known as scrubbers to reduce carbon pollution. The community later hoped a natural-gas plant would replace the coal facility, but Los Angeles could not agree with the local communities on a site.