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A Voter's Guide to California's Cleantech Propositions

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Election day is a week away, and voters have dozens of state and city propositions to acquaint themselves with before stepping into that voting booth. This year in California there are three state propositions that affect renewable energy and because they’re so important we decided to dig into the details and help you navigate the deceptively complicated language and make the greenest decisions. Why California? — the state leads the nation in cleantech investing, and, well, we’re based here, too. (So, we threw in a look at a San Francisco proposal for good measure).

Proposition 1A: Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond.

What it proposes: In 1996, the California High-Speed Rail Authority was created to plan and build a high-speed rail system linking California’s major cities. The total cost was estimated at $45 billion, funded by federal, state and local governments, as well as private sources. Proposition 1A proposes raising $9 billion to build the section of the rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco and another $950 million for other state and local rail lines.

What it would cost: The $9.95 billion in state bonds would cost $19.4 billion to pay off. Payments will average $647 million per year for more than 30 years. Operation and maintenance of the rail would cost the state $1 billion per year, minus ticket sales.

The lowdown: Proponents cite the successes of bullet trains in Europe and Asia and say construction of the line would create 500,000 new jobs. Opponents say this proposition is a huge burden for taxpayers; the project is over a decade in the making and there’s no promise prop 1A will get the job done. However, large infrastructure investments like this will never happen without public support and the benefits, both economic and environmental, will pay dividends for decades to come.

Proposition 7: The Solar and Clean Energy Act

What it proposes: Currently, the California Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) has set the goal for utilities to generate 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2010, but does not apply to publicly owned utilities. Prop 7 would raise the longer-term goals to 40 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2025 and broaden it to include public utilities too.

What it would cost: While the two sides of this Prop disagree, the likely outcome will be that ratepayers will see a 3 to 10 percent hike in their energy bill.

The lowdown: UPDATED: The proposition makes a number of small but important changes to the management of renewable energy beyond raising the renewable energy goals for the state. It would allow contracted, as well as installed, renewable energy to count toward meeting the RPS requirements; installations less than 30 megawatts wouldn’t count toward the RPS qualify for fast-tracked certification; and it would change many of the regulatory systems that facilitate bringing new green energy online.

The opposition includes big utilities, small cleantech startups, environmental organizations and the California Chamber of Commerce. They assert that the bill will hamper renewable energy development by not counting small-scale projects (like rooftop solar) and adding new bureaucracy. Proponents, pushing the lofty renewable energy targets, include an array of voter groups, funded with millions from billionaire University of Phoenix founder John Sperling and his son.

Proposition 10: The California Renewable Energy and Clean Alternative Fuel Act

What it proposes: $2.875 billion for Alternative Fuel Vehicle Rebates for natural gas, electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles. It provides $1.25 billion for renewable energy research and development and incentives for clean energy purchases. It also includes incentives for green collar job training for cities.

What it would cost: $5 billion in state bonds would cost $9.8 billion across 30 years, adding $335 million per year to the state budget.

The lowdown: Between a lack of hydrogen and electric options and $1 billion set aside exclusively for natural gas powered trucks, compressed natural gas vehicles will likely come away with the lion’s share of these rebates. The prop’s proponents include fellow Oklahoman natural gas men T. Boone Pickens, owner of Clean Energy Fuels, and Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, who have funded the campaign. We’ve questioned the real carbon reductions of natural gas cars before and encourage you to check out our list things to know about the idea.

City of San Francisco Proposition H: The San Francisco Clean Energy Act

What it proposes: Prop H is a charter amendment that would commission a study of electricity resources in San Francisco and give the Board of Supervisors the option to acquire those systems for the city. It would allow City Supervisors to issue revenue bonds to acquire PG&E’s distribution network with no voter approval. It would also mandate that the city generate 51 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2017, 75 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2040.

What it would cost: The study and task force alone could cost up to $1.75 million and actually acquiring PG&E’s facilities would cost billions of dollars (PG&E estimates $4 billion).

The lowdown: Proponents claim this will ensure that San Francisco is powered by 100 percent green power by 2040. It could create something like the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in San Francisco. But the opposition says there is no reason to believe the city could better run the grid or secure renewable energy to power it than PG&E. They contend Prop H is a greenwashed attempt to municipalize the PG&E-operated electrical system. The risk of rate hikes and PG&E moving its headquarters out of the city are real concerns, while the promise of cheaper and cleaner power are by no means guaranteed. Meanwhile, giving the City Supervisors the power to take over PG&E’s systems without having to go the voters is potentially worrisome.

Sources: California General Election Official Voter Information Guide, LA Times, San Francisco Planning & Urban Research Group.

Image courtesy of Californians for High-Speed Trains.

9 Responses to “A Voter's Guide to California's Cleantech Propositions”

  1. NO ON 10. League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, Natural Resources Defense Council and Environment California all oppose Prop 10. Why? It’s squanders $10 billion to steer us away from promising alternative fuel technology, onto a fossil fuel natural gas bridge to nowhere.
    30 daily newspapers wrote editorials against Prop 10. Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols says vote No, and points out that NOTHING in PROP 10 stops interstate trucking companies from moving their trucks to another state after they collect the $50,000 handout. We pay, others get the benefit. T Boone Pickens, who has spent $17 million pushing Prop 10, operates natural gas fueling stations in many states. He makes out like a bandit, wherever the trucks are relocated. No on 10 – Don’t cut our schools to make a Texas oil tycoon richer. visit:

  2. Aside from the issues raised in the piece and partially disputed in the comments, it appears to me that 7 is poorly drafted and could be counterproductive in several ways; and 10 is a pretty transparent natural gas “grab.” Remember that “Clean” natural gas, while low in criteria emissions, is still a fossil fuel, and produces only 20-30% less CO2 than gasoline, and that liquid fuel engines are all far less efficient than electric motors.

    A good place to get more information on these is at

  3. Although I really wish it could be done, I really don’t see PROP 7 as being a viable pursuit in terms of funding at the moment. We all know just how shaky the present economic climate is now and the forecast for the next few years is very unlikely to be dramatically different.

  4. Tam Hunt

    I agree that Prop 7 does not limit projects under 30 MW from counting toward renewable energy projects. I’m an attorney and have many years of experience in CA energy law and policy.

    Prop 7 does create a fast track permitting process for renewables 30 MW and over. This is where the “solar and clean energy plant” definition occurs. This definition does not, however, apply to eligibility for renewable portfolio standards, as many opponents mistakenly claim.

    The mistake arises because many of those reading Prop 7 don’t realize that the fast track permitting process definition does not apply to the earlier part of Prop 7 that makes changes to the Renewable Portfolio Standard (part of the Public Utilities Code). Definitions from one Code will never be applied to another Code unless those definitions are explicitly referenced. This is not the case with Prop 7. Ergo: Prop 7 makes no change to existing eligibility rules – other than the aforementioned fast track permitting process.

  5. sorry, the actual text of Prop 7, section 14 didn’t post for some reason. This is it:

    Section 25137 of the Public Resources Code is added to read as follows:

    “Solar and clean energy plant” means any electrical generating facility using wind, solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, biomass, biogas, geothermal, fuel cells using renewable fuels, digester gas, municipal solid waste conversion, landfill gas, ocean wave, ocean thermal, or tidal current technologies, with a generating capacity of 30 megawatts or more, or small hydroelectric generation of 30 megawatts or less, and any facilities appurtenant thereto.

  6. . The actual text from Proposition 7, section 14, page 24 is as follows:


    Stay with me here, the language is no doubt complicated and is easily pliable to make the argument that it will devastate small providers. The important things to note within this block of text are:
    1. Section 25137
    2. The association of megawatt size with tidal current and small hydroelectric technologies only.

    Now, starting with the most obvious, point two. I admit the sentence structure of this definition is poorly crafted and is why there has been such misinformed opposition to Proposition 7. Fortunately however, the authors’ intention is clear, verified both in court and in the entire context of the initiative and is given weight in any judicial proceeding that may arise over language. This means the imprecision of this definition will be amended to accurately reflect the authors’ intention of including all sizes of renewable electrical generating facilities with the only exceptions being: tidal current technologies with a generating capacity of 30 megawatts or more AND small hydroelectric generation of 30 megawatts or less. There is a distinction between small hydroelectric facilities and large hydroelectric facilities with only the former being considered a renewable resource. This is due to the inherent destructive nature of hydroelectric facilities that produce more than 30 megawatts of electricity. They divert too much water from its natural path, causing destruction of natural habitat and water shortages.

    Now more importantly, section 25137 is not the section that sets the definition for what sources of renewable energy are eligible in the Renewable Portfolio Standard. Section seven, page eight of the initiative text defines the terms used throughout the law.

    “Section 399.12 of the Public Utilities Code is amended to read as follows:
    For the purpose of this article, the following terms have the following meanings:”
    (b) “Eligible renewable energy resource” means a solar and clean energy facility that meets the definition of “in-state renewable electricity generation facility” in Section 25741 of the Public Resources Code…” <<

    Section 25741 of the Public Resources Code reads as follows:
    (b) “In-state renewable electricity generation facility” means a facility that meets all of the following criteria:
    (1) The facility uses biomass, solar thermal, photovoltaic, wind, geothermal, fuel cells using renewable fuels, small hydroelectric generation of 30 megawatts or less, digester gas, municipal solid waste conversion, landfill gas, ocean wave, ocean thermal, or tidal, and any additions or enhancements to the facility using that technology. <<

    The definition continues to describe requirements about in-state location and distribution but never once makes a size distinction or limitation on which facilities qualify.

    Hopefully this helps clear things up.

    The links to those sections of code are below:
    Section 399.12

    Section 25741

  7. This is a very complicated matter made worse by inaccurate reporting. Please note that Proposition 7 does not exclude producers of under 30 megawatts from counting towards the RPS targets. This has been a successful false claim by PG&E, SoCal Edison, and Sempra to deter small providers, environmental organizations and voters from supporting it.

    See these links:,0,1227938.story