California is on the cusp of a new wave of investments in advanced energy technologies and projects, from energy efficiency upgrades for aging school buildings to breakthroughs in low-carbon fuels. Or at least it should be. With revenue generated from Prop 39 and proceeds from the auction of emissions credits under AB 32, 2013 was to be the year that the state reaffirmed its leadership role in energy and climate.
Unfortunately, in his just-released budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Governor Brown has charted a different course, one that throws into doubt the ability to make these investments pay off for California.
First, Prop 39. By an overwhelming majority, last fall the voters approved a change in the tax code that will bring in more than $1 billion annually, half of which was to be allocated to energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in schools and public buildings for the next five years. The promise to voters was that these projects would have a major impact on schools’ energy bills, saving money that could be plowed back into classroom instruction. The way to do that, as detailed by AEE last month in principles developed with advanced energy business leaders and shared with the Governor’s office and legislative leaders, is by focusing the funds on schools with the greatest potential for energy savings, maximizing the return on each tax dollar invested.
Instead, the Governor has proposed spreading the money to every district across the state on a per-pupil basis. Putting a little bit of money in a lot of places will squander the opportunity to have maximum impact on how schools use energy. And by inadvertently minimizing the energy savings to schools, this proposal will also undermine the intended boost to beleaguered classroom budgets.
Even more curious is the Governor’s plan for AB 32 auction revenues. He has proposed diverting the $500 million raised in recent auctions of emissions credits into a loan to the state’s general fund. The stated reason is that the Air Resources Board needs more time to finalize its investment plan. Yet this is at odds with the release earlier this week of the board’s “final” version of that very plan. The result of broad stakeholder input and much discussion, the plan is ready to go, and advanced energy companies throughout the state are poised to make it happen.
It’s time to get serious about delivering on the potential for a vibrant economy powered by secure, clean and affordable energy. Let’s put the AB 32 auction proceeds to work according to the well-vetted plan from the Air Resources Board. And let’s work together on an allocation formula for Prop 39 dollars that generates the most energy-cost savings for our schools. Combined, these efforts can help ensure that California meets its ambitious but achievable energy and climate goals with the maximum benefit to jobs and the economy.
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