A Critical Clean Energy Decision for California and the West

How often does a legislature get to take action that will reduce voters’ utility bills and improve their air quality with no upfront costs? California lawmakers have an opportunity to do just that by acting now to enhance and integrate the fragmented western grid crisscrossing 14 states, which also will reinforce the state’s climate and clean energy leadership.

NRDC urges the California legislature to act before its scheduled mid-September adjournment to resolve the longstanding issue of who will govern a fully integrated western grid under an expanded California Independent System Operator (CAISO). This will open the way toward a fully integrated regional grid, which will reduce costs, improve reliability, and cut pollution emissions in California and throughout the West. And it’s crucial to our state’s clean energy transition and climate leadership. Delay means lost opportunities to minimize the waste of California-based renewable energy, higher utility bills, and unnecessary blackout risks, to cite just some of the disadvantages of a severely fragmented western power grid.

While a web of transmission lines physically connects 14 western states, two Canadian provinces, and Northern Mexico, operational responsibilities for the Western transmission system are currently divided among 38 separate bodies. It’s like having 38 different drivers of a train.

We urge Governor Brown and the State Legislature to work together now to begin the process of transitioning to a fully integrated regional grid by crafting clear statutory authorization for the existing CAISO board appointed by California’s governor to instead oversee a transition to a fully independent board with diverse expertise, in consultation with stakeholders throughout California and the West. An independent board is the norm for the nation’s six other regional transmission operators.

NRDC is part of a coalition, Secure California’s Energy Future, working together to support this transition, and our coalition’s  membership demonstrates the breadth of support for prompt action. Supporters include two Nobel laureates, a former U.S. Secretary (Steve Chu) and Deputy Secretary of Energy (TJ Glauthier), the Advanced Energy Economy group, the American Association of Blacks in Energy, the Bay Area Council, Environmental Entrepreneurs, Independent Energy Producers, the Solar Energy Industries Association, and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

Full integration of the Western power grid would:

  • Maintain each western state’s control over its own utilities and energy policies.
  • Reduce costs and improve reliability for electricity customers across California and the West, saving billions of dollars—and millions of tons of pollution—over the next two decades.
  • Grow California’s clean-tech sector and create good-paying jobs for working families.
  • Reduce the growing need to ‘turn off’ and waste clean, affordable solar- and wind-generated electricity in California by creating access to a larger marketplace.
  • Help California to meet its renewable energy targets by increasing coordination.
  • Increase transparency and safeguard against price gouging by unscrupulous power marketers.

It’s past time for California to authorize a CAISO governance transition that will advance clean energy, climate action and crucial public interests without requiring a single penny of public (or anyone else’s) funds.

About the Authors

Ralph Cavanagh

Codirector, Energy program

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