Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Californians Turning Against Climate Bill & Smart Meters?

Signature gathering began last week in California on a November ballot initiative (Measure 94) that would delay the first-in-the-nation global warming law, AB 32, until unemployment drops to 5.5% for at least a year. California joblessness is over 12% today. Assembly Bill 32, adopted in 2006, would require the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions -- which mostly come from burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars -- to 1990 levels by 2020. That would be an effective cut of about 15% below today's levels. The California Air Resources Board is expected to adopt a cap-and-trade program, which would limit the amount each industry can emit, but allow companies to buy and sell emissions credits to lower their costs.

Measure 94 would suspend not only the proposed cap-and-trade program, but also rules that have already been adopted by the California Air Resources board, including a measure to slash the amount of carbon in gasoline and other fuels. That first-in-the-nation low-carbon fule stardard was adopted in April 2009. It would also invalidate Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's executive order requiring that 33% of all retail electricity sellers get their electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal by 2020. (The current standard of 20% by investor-owned utilities by 2010 would still apply.) That order would curb greenhouse gas emissions of the state's power plants, its biggest polluters. The limit on greenhouse gas emissions from cars would probably be unaffected by the proposed ballot measure because vehicles fall under a 2002 statute, AB 1493, known as the Pavely law after its author, state Sen. Fran Pavely (D-Agoura Hills).

Southern California Gas Company is getting heat from its customers over its smart meters. Critics contend that with smart meters for electricity, consumers can adjust their use and see changes in their monthly bills, but they can't use smart meters to get much of a change in their natural gas bills. Moreover, customers must pay about $200 per meter not only for the equipment and installation, but also for a guaranteed return to SoCalGas for its outlay. It is generally agreed that the most that could be saved over 30 years, conservatively, is 1% of the annual natural gas consumption. Consumer groups, the utility workers' labor union, the state's ratepayer advocate and others denounce as a boondoggle and complain that most of the benefits to the company would come from eliminating about 1,000 meter readers, who could be added to the state's growing ranks of the unemployed.

In a related matter, disconnections for low-income customers jumped 28% statewide in California from September 2008 to August 2009, compared with the previous 12 months, according to an independent arm of the Public Utilities Commission.The Division of Ratepayer Advocates' report speculated that widespread installation of so-called smart meters that allow service to be disconnected remotely may be a factor in the increased cutoffs. Smart meters allow utilities "to cut off more people faster and more frequently and more cheaply" than manual disconnections. The rise in disconnections was highest in parts of Northern and Central California served by Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which has installed a large number of smart meters, the division said. San Diego Gas & Electric Co., which has the state's lowest disconnection rate, and Southern California Edison have yet to roll out their smart meters on a large scale. Banning remote disconnections would make it impossible to reconnect service remotely.

(L.A. Times, 3/10/10, L.A. Times Greenspace, 1/25/10, L.A. Times, 3/10/10)

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