What's a Clean Energy Future Worth?

September 27, 2011 | 9:46 am
Laura Wisland
Former Contributor

Dropping $1.50 into your piggybank each month won’t get you too far too fast, but when you combine forces with all the electricity customers of California’s first, second, and fourth largest utilities, it amounts to a useful chunk of change.

For the past 15 years, the “public goods charge,” a modest surcharge on monthly electricity bills, has generated almost $400 million annually to develop California’s reputation as a cutting-edge clean technology leader.

California is a leader in clean energy policies. Photo source: ra2 studio

Specifically, these funds support a clean technology research, development, and deployment program that has helped Californians save money on their electricity bills and transition to cleaner, safer sources of energy like the wind and sun.

Public goods charge funds have also been used to research the impacts of burning fossil fuels on our environment, health, and pocketbooks.  Examples include research efforts to help state agencies understand how fragile ecosystems can adapt to global climate change and how climate change may impact electricity usage and electricity bills.

These investments have been especially valuable in an increasingly competitive green energy economy, and have helped California continue to attract venture capital dollars, which has created jobs and pumped millions of dollars throughout the state’s economy. In the first half of 2010 alone, the state attracted 40 percent of global clean technology venture capital.

Other funds collected through the public goods charge have been used to install energy efficiency and clean energy technologies.  As a result, Californians use dramatically less electricity than the rest of the country which translates into significant savings on electricity bills.  In fact, California’s average monthly electricity bills for residents are 14 percent lower than the rest of the nation.

Unfortunately, the California legislature failed to reauthorize the public goods charge this September.  Passing the measure required a two-thirds vote of support, and in the chaotic final days of the 2011 session a handful of legislators were able to block passage.

Wind TurbinesCalifornia cannot afford to be so short-sighted on its clean energy future.  Failing to maintain support for one of the brightest spots of California’s economy is not only like killing the golden goose, but sends a negative message to would-be investors that California might not be on a consistent and steady clean energy path.

In a recent San Francisco Chronicle article on the issue, a spokesman for Jerry Brown said the administration wants to “ensure that California continues to invest in job-producing clean energy and innovation.”

The support from the governor, clean technology business leaders, jobs advocates, and even some of the utilities underscores a broad-based understanding of the need to continue these investments which help revitalize our state’s economy and meet our vital renewable energy goals.

We will continue to fight for the growth of clean energy and good jobs and work with policy makers to effectively extend the funding for these beneficial programs.