Renewable power, alternative fuel measures fail

by David Baker, San Francisco Chronicle

Two state ballot measures that would dramatically expand California’s use of renewable power and alternative fuels appeared headed for defeat this morning.

Proposition 7 would force California’s electrical utilities to get 50 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025, a big jump from the state’s current goal of 20 percent by the end of 2010. And Prop. 10 would offer rebates for cars and trucks that burn natural gas or alternative fuels, with the money coming from $5 billion in state bonds.

Both were losing this morning.

"People do want more clean, renewable power in California," said Jim Metropulos, senior advocate for the Sierra Club, one of several environmental groups that opposed Prop. 7. "I think people in California were able to see that Prop. 7, the way it was written, was not going to work."

Both propositions touch on issues dear to Californians: energy and global warming. But both measures provoked fierce resistance, much of it from environmentalists.

An odd alliance of big electric utility companies and environmental groups fought against Prop. 7, saying it was so badly written that it would actually slow the development of renewable power, not speed it. And critics blasted Prop. 10 as a money grab by Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, whose company Clean Energy Fuels sells natural gas for use in vehicles. The company provided almost all of Prop. 10’s $22.5 million campaign fund.

"This has proved that one special interest, no matter how rich it is, can’t hoodwink Californians into passing a measure that just lines that interest’s pockets," said Richard Holober, executive director of the Consumer Federation of California.

Supporters of each proposition, however, described their measures as the kinds of big,bold steps needed to help California fight climate change and wean itself off imported oil.

Prop. 7 would have forced California utilities to increase their use of renewable power by 2 percentage points each year. By 2025, 50 percent of the electricity they sell to customers would have had to come from such sources as the sun or the wind. The process for granting government permits to renewable energy projects would have been streamlined.

Critics said that under the proposition’s complex language, smaller renewable energy projects would not count toward the 50 percent goal. Many renewable energy developers joined the opposition as a result.

Prop. 7 supporters, however, insisted that their opponents misread the measure and that smaller projects would indeed count. Supporters portrayed the opposition campaign as a front for utility companies that don’t want to use more renewable power. Utilities were the largest contributors to the $29.8 million campaign against Prop. 7, with San Francisco’s Pacific Gas and Electric Co. spending $13.9 million to defeat the measure.