California lawmakers halt proposal for Western regional energy market

(Courthouse News) California State Senate leader Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said Friday night that a closely watched bill seeking to merge the state into a regional energy market with other Western states won’t be brought up for a vote in this legislative session.

Assembly Bill 813, introduced by Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, would lump the Golden State with up to 13 states in the Regional Transmission Organization, a wholesale electricity market stretching from Canada to Baja California.

“We will continue this important discussion next year,” Atkins said in a statement Friday before the close of the legislative session.

The move is a blow to Gov. Jerry Brown and environmental groups – including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund – that backed the idea, claiming it would cut costs for consumers and bring more clean energy into the state.

Gov. Brown said he supports the bill because California could draw electricity from other states when green energy sources such as solar and wind are unreliable.

The State Assembly passed Senate Bill 100 Tuesday, that sets a goal of 100 percent clean, reliable and sustainable energy statewide by 2045.

But opponents of AB 813 – at least 65 of which are listed in the state analysis – say deregulation of the market threatens the state’s transition away from reliance on fossil fuels, opens it up to malicious speculation and would cost residents billions of dollars in fees.

The controversial measure would turn over decision-making power for California’s portion of that energy transmission chain from the nonprofit California Independent System Operator to the multistate organization.

Thirty-eight separate operators known as “balancing authorities” stretch across the interconnected western United States and make up approximately 20 percent of all the electric capacity in the United States and Canada, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

The balancing authorities ensure a real-time balancing of power system demand and supply across the region.

The state’s energy operator established the Western Energy Imbalance Market in 2014 ostensibly to enhance grid reliability, save consumers money and improve the integration of renewable energy into the grid.

In July, the Los Angeles City Council voted to oppose AB 813 and said it has taken steps to “voluntarily join the Energy Imbalance Market by 2020” which would allow it to sell excess energy or buy energy.

A “more prudent alternative” to the regional energy organization would be to expand the existing Energy Imbalance Market, which includes members from eight states, a Los Angeles City Council report on the measure said.

“Such a system would allow California to reap the benefits of more expansive trading without risking each utilities autonomy,” the report said.