Lawmakers will determine whether California's clean energy research and development leadership continues
California’s national leadership in clean energy research and innovation – and growing thousands of “green jobs” – could be threatened if the Legislature fails to authorize funding to implement a program designed to ensure continued expansion of the state’s clean energy economy and affordable, reliable electrical service to Californians.
The Electric Program Investment Charge, or EPIC, is a clean energy research, development and demonstration (RD&D) program overseen by the California Public Utilities Commission. Applications for $162 million in critical RD&D investments are now pending before the Commission, but cannot move forward unless the Legislature and the Governor include funding in the next state budget for staff to implement the program.
The program is “budget neutral” and won’t use a single dollar of the state’s general fund because the investments are included in electric rates. But bad politics, including opposition from one utility, the Southern California Edison Company, is putting it at risk nonetheless.
Investment in clean energy RD&D is the essential first step in the development of scientific and technological breakthroughs that allow us to address our key economic and environmental challenges in the electricity sector.
California has a proud, decades-long record of support for clean energy RD&D, helping to support a burgeoning clean energy sector.
NRDC is among those urging the California Senate and Assembly budget committee chairmen to include authorization for the EPIC program in California’s 2013-14 budget. Also signing a letter in support were 106 California members of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a non-partisan, national community of business leaders who promote strong environmental policy to grow the economy.
A little history
The California Legislature first authorized the California Public Utilities Commission to invest in energy research and development beginning in the 1970s. These investments have achieved key successes in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other clean energy sectors for decades.
Last year, California’s system benefits charge funding that R&D expired, leaving the future of clean energy research uncertain. Fortunately, the Public Utilities Commission used its existing authority to regulate utilities and invest in energy research and development, a law which has been on the books for 40 years, to create the EPIC program to ensure ongoing reliable and clean electric service.
Thee EPIC program was developed in an open, transparent process with extensive input from a wide range of stakeholders, including consumer groups, environmental organizations, and utilities. It builds on the successes of the previous program but incorporates a number of improvements that were adopted in response to legislative concerns, including a consolidated proceeding, a preference for competitive bidding, and clear and transparent selection criteria.
Why we need EPIC
Clean energy research and development fosters innovation and creates jobs. California already leads the nation in clean energy jobs. Employment growth in this area continues to outpace the economic recovery in other sectors.
(Graph from the Green Innovation Index.)
Authorizing funding to implement the EPIC program will directly benefit utility customers and the California economy. The program is critical to the state’s progress on clean energy, and effective regulation of the state’s energy utilities.
Halting progress on energy research and development would be a huge (Shall I say epic?) failure.