California’s Cleantech War – Prop 23

According to pick your favorite cleantech and carbon media outlet, California is at war. 

AB 32 is California’s carbon cap and trade law.   The law is most the way ready to implement, with the rulemaking in process now.  It’s aimed squarely at two goals, one, reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions, and two, since such a reduction is largely symbolic without the rest of the world participating as well (CO2 is the only environmental pollutant that really doesn’t care where in the world it goes in or comes out, so is a truly global pollutant requiring a global response) continue California’s trend of environmental policy leadership, and be the beacon on the hill.

As it currently stands, AB 32 rules (as with most of these things the devil’s in the details, and the 2008 law takes a long time to work out the details) are supposed to be ready to go at the end of this year, and implemented in 2012.

Proposition 23 is an initiative on the ballot designed to indefinitely delay implementation of AB 32.  And for the record, if you don’t click that link at least read the Legislative Analyst’s analysis, I suggest you skip the vote.

The actual impact according to the California voter information guide would be to suspend part of the measures in the Scoping Plan (California’s overall GHG Plan), targeting about half of the emissions in the Scoping Plan:

“Various Climate Change Regulatory Activities Would Be Suspended. This proposition would result in the suspension of a number of measures in the Scoping Plan for which regulations either have been adopted or are proposed for adoption. Specifically, this proposition would likely suspend:

  • The proposed cap–and–trade regulation discussed above.
  • The “low carbon fuel standard” regulation that requires providers of transportation fuel in California (such as refiners and importers) to change the mix of fuels to lower GHG emissions.
  • The proposed ARB regulation that is intended to require privately and publicly owned utilities and others who sell electricity to obtain at least 33 percent of their supply from “renewable” sources, such as solar or wind power, by 2020. (The current requirement that 20 percent of the electricity obtained by privately owned utilities come from renewable sources by 2010 would not be suspended by this proposition.)
  • The fee to recover state agency costs of administering AB 32.

Much Regulation in the Scoping Plan Would Likely Continue. Many current activities related to addressing climate change and reducing GHG emissions would probably not be suspended by this proposition. That is because certain Scoping Plan regulations implement laws other than AB 32. The regulations that would likely move forward, for example, include:

  • New vehicle emission standards for cars and smaller trucks.
  • A program to encourage homeowners to install solar panels on their roofs.
  • Land–use policies to promote less reliance on vehicle use.
  • Building and appliance energy efficiency requirements.”

Because it is expected to scrap CARB’s proposed expansion of the California RPS to 33% of power from renewable sources up from the current goals of 20% (we’re not there yet), and the removal of the planned Low Carbon Fuel Standard, the entire cleantech sector is up in arms. 

Contrary to popular opinion, a Yes on Prop 23 probably won’t gut the cleantech sector – since cleantech is global and California’s cleantech companies are driven by programs well beyond its borders, since all the major programs Prop 23 affects haven’t actually been enacted yet and several key programs would be untouched (as well that the LCFS probably gets served by things other than cleantech biofuels anyway at least in the first years).  But it would cut into the future growth of renewables in the state a few years down the road, esp wind and large scale solar.

What it would definitely do is kill the nascent push in the US towards real cap and trade just a month ahead of the next round of international climate change negotiations in Cancun.  Quite frankly if California can’t deliver on its own cap and trade law, who else can?

And it would send a signal to the world that California voters are not quite as ready to be the beacon on the hill for environmental issues as they once were.

Will it hurt the economy and kill jobs if we don’t pass it and AB 32 continues?  Unfortunately it depends, with the pain more certain and likely nearer term, and the huge economic benefits more uncertain and likely longer term – though quite substantial in possibilities.  Yes, in the short term and medium term LCFS and 33% RPS and cap and trade will push up power prices and fuel prices in California, hurting consumers, and pushing some production out of the state (if other states and countries don’t continue to match the increased regulation).  That’s why it’s called alternative energy – it’s still more expensive.  But yes, it will probably simultaneously catalyze more venture capital investment (VC services is a big export for us), carbon markets investment (I know about two dozen companies that moved into California specifically because of AB 32 and its first mover advantage in US cap and trade and I helped bring 2 of them in myself), and certainly add some manufacturing and construction jobs in the cleantech sector. 

Net net, higher energy and manufacturing costs in California and an effective renewable and carbon quota mean economic losses in comparative advantage and to consumers in California.  But how much depends on exactly how good a job it does of catalyzing jobs in California for export or replacing business that we currently import to offset that.  And it is very, very hard to underestimate how good California’s environmental leadership has been at catalyzing US and global change.  Meaning the that comparative advantage loss may be short-lived (higher power prices from more low carbon renewables don’t cost California many jobs if its competitors adopt effective carbon prices as well), and if a new export industry and venture capital emerges to be a world leader (which basically pulls dollars from all around the world into Silicon Valley) it means more new California jobs gained than those lost from the comparative advantage shift, then all is good.

Unfortunately, some of that depends on how well CARB actually designs the final rules, and my big fear for California on AB 32 stems from how badly the state screwed up its last major energy deal – power deregulation.  Keep in mind Texas got that one right, and California’s was a fiasco (then as now blamed on the Texans – but I can buy 100% wind power for 11.4 cents a Kwh flat rate in Texas).

So, vote yes, and kill AB 32, and carbon leadership, and ding the rest of the cleantech sector, and you’ll probably never feel the impact in you pocket book (or realize it if you do).  But if you vote yes, you lose all moral right to claim cleantech and environmental leadership for the state.

Or vote no, and keep the state headed in the direction its going – leadership in renewables and carbon, and signal to the world that you care.  More than that, you tell yourself you believe that policy enabled innovation can change your fortune for the better, and outweigh the investment.  That’s technology and venture capital, and that’s what California does best. 

But please, vote for what *you* believe – not because the cleantech sector is screaming that you’re taking away their subsidy or because a couple of independent Texas oil companies are funding the no vote (they are, but to be fair, they provide a lot jobs and taxes to the state, California has not exactly gone out of its way play fair for them in the implementation of AB 32).  And don’t vote one way or the other just because you think it create or kill jobs – because which way the net outcome sways lies on our shoulders, too, from policy makers and CARB staff to the energy industry to the California consumer and business who will pay the final price and reap the final reward either way. 

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital, has help found or has interests in businesses in carbon (as founding CEO of Carbonflow), solar, superconductors, and green products, and personally stands to lose a lot of money if Proposition 23 passes and AB 32 goes down.

2 replies
  1. Earl Richards
    Earl Richards says:

    PROP 26 is just as destructive as PROP 23. Prop 26 is a treacherous, Big Oil rip-off, which "passes the buck" from oil corporation, clean-up fees to the taxpayer, who will pay the oil recycling fees, the materials hazards fees and other fees. If you do not understand the ambiguities and the intrigues behind Prop 26, then, vote no. Exxon Mobil, Shell and BP are silent partners behind Prop 23.Power to the people.

  2. PD2012
    PD2012 says:

    it's good ab32 will go full throttle. The tax payer and energy consumer will finally realize the eco-KOOK hoax cap and trade is and put an end to the eco-KOOK mental disorder in california. eco-KOOKS have no business in the public policy loop.

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