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OPINION: IT Leaders Need to Speak Out Against Prop 16

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Proposition 16, championed by PG&E, is an initiative that would effectively kill the ability of local jurisdictions in California to take charge of where they get their electricity and how fast a clean tech revolution can occur locally and beyond. IT companies, which stand to gain if we create a decentralized smart electricity grid, should be speaking out against Prop 16 — but they are not.

Two entities that have been vocal in their support for Prop 16 are the California Chamber of Commerce and the Bay Area Council, upon which PG&E holds a seat on the Executive Committee. But IT companies — such as Google (s GOOG), HP (s HP), and Oracle (s ORCL) — which call California home and stand to make huge sums in the new clean energy economy, are also members of these influential business groups. So, why are the IT companies allowing two business associations that represent them advocate for a law that would take away a major pathway for the growth of their business?

While it is a positive that many IT companies recently wrote a letter to President Obama demanding greater consumer access to energy use data from utilities, back at home in California, they are conspicuously absent from the debate as PG&E fills the airwaves with pro Prop 16 propaganda.

IT companies know far too well that big monopolies are not the engine of innovation. If they were, we would all be using Windows Vista and Internet Explorer. But California, long an incubator of innovative policy models and ingenuity that spread to other parts of the United States, is just days away from potentially passing a law that would squash a green tech powered clean energy transformation of the electricity grid.

The IT sector has demonstrated an apparent lack of concern over a threat to competition and a loss of tremendous business opportunities, in addition to the opportunity to partner with local governments in a transformational way to speed the deployment of clean technologies at a scale scientists say is needed to address climate change.

If only PG&E had made the mistake of trying to outlaw cloud computing.

Silicon Valley companies like Google, HP, and Cisco (s CSCO) stand to lose significant business development pathways if the initiative passes, as the proliferation of locally managed energy districts would create new long-term customers for IT innovations that manage and measure energy.  More competition in the utility market and local control of power distribution would ultimately drive renewable energy deployment across a decentralized grid and, in turn, boost demand for IT energy solutions, such as the smart grid and building efficiency management tools.

Defeating Prop 16 sets the stage for much stronger clean tech partnerships between IT companies and local governments. As cities and counties attempt to define and measure their regional emissions and energy impacts in order to develop comprehensive climate action plans, they struggle with a dearth of data to inform policy development. By leveraging a fraction of the revenue from these action plans, local governments can invest in IT software and other clean tech tools to help them quantify impacts, collecting and leveraging data from smart grids, smart meters, and other technologies that better inform local codes and policies to drive faster innovation and energy savings.

PG&E and other investor-owned utilities are not interested in a green revolution. They would prefer a slow transition to what will inevitably have to be a cleaner grid, one which allows them to maximize profits by prolonging the status quo. If IT companies want to preserve competition and ensure rapid transformation to a smart grid fueled by renewable power in the most innovative and trend-setting markets of the United States, they had better speak up quickly and boldly.

Gary Cook is a Climate Policy Analyst for Greenpeace International’s Cool IT Campaign, which works with leading IT companies on innovative solutions and policies to reduce greenhouse gases.

Image courtesy of TpolyG’s photostream.