Can California keep lights on over Labor Day?
Note: Due to the holiday weekend, the newsletter will pause until Tuesday.
Californians’ energy conservation efforts and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s emergency proclamation freeing up additional supplies helped the state avoid a Wednesday shortfall that could have resulted in rolling blackouts as an extreme heat wave strained the electric grid, California’s Independent System Operator said Thursday.
But today marks the third straight day of statewide Flex Alerts asking Californians to voluntarily conserve energy from 4 to 9 p.m. And, with temperatures expected to remain 10 to 20 degrees above normal into early next week and more calls for energy conservation expected through Labor Day — in addition to other possible “emergency actions” — the threat is far from over.
Exacerbating the grid’s fragility: raging Southern California wildfires that knocked out transmission lines on Wednesday, resulting in a temporary loss of about 700 megawatts. And more blazes could be on the way: The U.S. Forest Service warned residents Thursday to take precautions during Labor Day weekend — when California’s national forests see the highest number of visitors — by being aware of fire restrictions and being careful with campfires.
- How did California’s wildfires become so unpredictable and extreme? And why do they now pose a risk almost the whole year round? CalMatters’ Julie Cart answers those questions and more in this comprehensive, newly updated explainer.
The prolonged heat wave is a test not only for Newsom — who’s facing reelection in November and is simultaneously working to elevate his national profile — but also for the ambitious climate package he helped push through the state Legislature at the last minute. (The governor on Thursday highlighted state actions to maintain grid reliability, including maximizing electrical generation from hydropower plants and raising thermostat temperatures in state buildings.)
Central to Newsom’s strategy to keeping Californians’ lights on, electric vehicles powered and air conditioners whirring: extending the lifespan of Diablo Canyon, the state’s last nuclear power plant. But, as CalMatters’ Nadia Lopez reports, the clock is ticking: The state has a Sept. 6 deadline to apply for federal funding, a key step in the long and convoluted road to keeping the facility open past its planned 2025 closure.
And, while Newsom’s proposal garnered bipartisan support in the Legislature and the applause of some environmental groups, others weren’t too pleased — and hinted that legal challenges could be on the way.
- Ken Cook, president of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, said in a statement: “The rush by lawmakers and Gov. Newsom to keep Diablo Canyon running is dangerous and dumb and will only set back California’s drive to make solar and wind the prevailing sources of electricity in the state. EWG will explore every opportunity, administratively, legally, and policy-wise, available to prevent the extended operation of Diablo Canyon.”
Other environmental advocates didn’t buy Newsom’s argument that temporarily prolonging Diablo Canyon’s operations would buy the state enough time to develop adequate clean energy to meet demand.
- Alex Jackson, director of American Clean Power-California, said in a statement: “While the package of bills now on their way to the Governor takes some important steps to continue our transition to clean energy sources, they fall well short of what it will take to avoid landing in the same predicament five years from now.”
So what bills are in the package sent to Newsom, and what would they do? Nadia breaks down the significance of the five measures approved by lawmakers — as well as the one ambitious policy that failed to advance to the governor’s desk.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 10,268,137 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 94,120 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
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1 Lawmakers punt on groundwater bill
Speaking of climate, although California is experiencing one of the driest years in recent history, state lawmakers didn’t pass any bills before the legislative session ended early Thursday morning to boost water supply or protect groundwater from pumping, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. One of the bills that met a silent death would have reined in agricultural groundwater pumping — marking the biggest change to California’s groundwater management strategy in nearly a decade — as drought grips the state and more than a thousand domestic wells have run dry.
- Roger Dickinson, a former Democratic Assemblymember from Sacramento who helped write the state’s landmark groundwater law: “We cannot succeed in reaching sustainability unless we are judicious about continuing to allow well drilling. … I’m really disappointed.”
- Democratic Assemblymember Adam Gray of Merced: “Once again we saw a bill written and advocated for by people who aren’t from the (Central) Valley who think they know what’s best for us.”
2 Why did concealed carry bill go down?
In one of the most surprising moments of the final hours of the legislative session, the state Assembly shot down a proposal that would have rewritten state regulations on who can get a license to carry a concealed handgun and the places they can go while armed. The bill — framed as a direct response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling restricting states’ ability to regulate how concealed weapon permits are handed out — was backed by many of California’s most prominent Democratic elected officials, including Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta. And Democratic lawmakers rarely turn down the chance to strengthen California’s already toughest-in-the-nation gun laws. So why did this bill fail?
CalMatters’ Ben Christopher dug into the behind-the-scenes and found several possible explanations: The bill’s scope was ambitious, even by California standards. Its supporters may have been victims of their own overconfidence and eagerness. And some lingering bad blood between a few key legislators probably didn’t help, either. For more on what happened — and the future of California’s concealed carry gun laws — check out Ben’s piece.
3 A snapshot of bills on Newsom’s desk
Now that we’ve gone over some of the key bills that failed, let’s take a look at some noteworthy ones that passed — in addition to the other 26 on which CalMatters is keeping tabs in our handy bill tracker. If signed into law by Newsom, the proposals would:
- Offer a $1,000 tax credit to low-income Californians who don’t have cars. Single filers earning up to $40,000 and joint filers making up to $60,000 would be eligible. “As the impacts of climate change are felt across our state, it’s time we more aggressively commit to implementing modes of sustainable transportation,” said Democratic state Sen. Anthony Portantino of Glendale, the bill’s author.
- Create the nation’s first advance warning and ranking system for extreme heat waves, such as those used to classify hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
- Pinpoint why Californians pay so much for gas at the pump by forcing oil refineries to disclose each month to state regulators how much crude oil they refined into gas, how much they paid for each barrel and how much money they made.
- Reform California’s conservatorship system, a legal arrangement in which a court-appointed conservator manages the living situation, medical choices and mental health treatment of someone deemed too disabled or mentally ill to make their own decisions. The controversial system was thrust in the spotlight last year following Britney Spears’ high-profile battle to get out of her conservatorship, prompting a bill that makes it more difficult to establish a conservatorship, easier to emerge from one and promotes alternatives to court.
- Allow people convicted of crimes prior to Jan. 1, 2021 to petition courts to determine if their sentence was influenced by bias against their race, ethnicity or national origin. If yes, those defendants would then be eligible for relief.
- Require California K-12 schools, community colleges and California State University campuses to buy mostly U.S.-grown food for school meals. The bill is opposed by the California School Boards Association and Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, among others.
- Block foreign governments from purchasing California agricultural land. “Food can, and is, being used as a weapon like we are seeing in Ukraine,” said Democratic state Sen. Melissa Hurtado of Hanford, the bill’s author. “Recent reports discuss how a nation could gain leverage by acquiring agricultural land, and creating bioweapons that impact our food supply chain. (This bill) seeks to protect California’s water and food supply, especially as water availability across Western States decreases.”
What it will take for Newsom’s water plan to work: His plan is timely and much needed, but making it happen will require unprecedented compromises from California’s powerful environmentalist lobby, argues Edward Ring, co-founder of the California Policy Center.
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