Ballot knowledge is power

by Alex Breitler, Stockton Record

If you’ve ever worried about climate change or gasoline prices – and who hasn’t? – two clean-energy measures on the November ballot might be of interest.

But an unusually broad coalition of critics warns voters to read the fine print on Propositions 7 and 10.

Here’s what you need to know:

Proposition 7

What it would do: Require utilities such as Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to switch to renewable energy sources such as solar or wind at a faster rate. Under existing law, PG&E must increase its renewable energy by 1 percent each year; Proposition 7 would increase that to 2 percent, creating a 50 percent target by 2025.

Under existing law, if the target is missed, the utility pays a fine; this measure would lower the rate of the fine but remove a cap on the total fines that can be levied in a given year.

Who’s for it: The effort is led by Arizona billionaire Peter Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix, who has contributed at least $5million to the campaign, according to California Secretary of State’s Office records. The proposition is a "balanced solution that will reduce the rising costs of energy and limit the dangers of global warming," supporters said in a statement. It would wean utilities off of dirty coal and other fossil fuels, they said.

Who’s against it: Utilities, some environmental groups and small-scale energy providers. The utilities have kicked in the most money: At least $13million from PG&E and roughly the same from Edison International. Critics say the measure would stall development of renewable energy, because it would exclude small projects, such as individuals who put solar panels on their homes. This would devastate small solar business owners, opponents say. The proposition "was put together by people who don’t know what they’re doing; they don’t understand California’s clean energy policies, laws and markets," wrote Craig Noble, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco. "Good intentions aren’t good enough," he wrote.

How it could affect you: The construction of new facilities and development of technology might drive up electricity rates in the short term, though the measure promises no more than 3 percent. The Legislative Analyst’s Office said the measure could either increase or decrease rates in the long term. Supporters say the measure would put a crimp in climate change and move toward ending reliance on foreign oil "so that future generations can live in peace."

Proposition 10

What it would do: Authorize $5billion in bond money to help people pay for alternative-fuel vehicles, including natural gas, as well as for research, development and grants to cities for renewable energy projects.

Who’s for it: Clean Energy Fuels Co., billed as the largest provider of natural gas for transportation in North America. The company, founded by Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, has contributed roughly $2million. Several other energy companies have also donated.

The proposition would help replace more than 28,000 diesel trucks or convert them to run on cleaner fuels. It also would provide rebates for consumers who want fuel-efficient cars.

"Record-high gas prices are squeezing California’s families and hurting our economy," supporters said.

Who’s against it: Groups including Consumer Watchdog, nurses and teachers associations, and the Sierra Club. While relatively modest rebates would be offered to those seeking to buy hybrid cars, for example, as much as $50,000 per truck could be awarded, with the potential that the vehicles will simply be sold for profit out of state, the Consumer Federation of California says. Critics also say the state simply has too much bond debt to take on another project. "Better hang onto your wallet," the federation’s Richard Holober said.

How it could affect you: You might be eligible for a rebate on certain vehicles. For local and state governments, increased sales would lead to greater tax revenue, but California would owe about $355million per year to pay off the $5billion debt, plus $5billion in interest, according to an analysis by the state attorney general.