Backdoor politics: IID alleges Riverside County violated Brown Act in passing ordinance

From the Imperial Valley Press:

Backdoor politics

IID alleges Riverside County violated Brown Act in passing ordinance

By IMPERIAL VALLEY PRESS STAFF

 LA QUINTA — The Imperial Irrigation District is alleging Riverside County was in violation of California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act, when Riverside officials “lined up votes” outside of the public’s purview on an ordinance the district is now suing over.

What’s more, due to the alleged Brown Act violations, the district sent a letter from one of its attorneys demanding that the ordinance in question be rescinded or that Riverside County face additional legal challenges from the district.

The allegations were made public Tuesday at the district’s monthly meeting in La Quinta during a presentation by attorneys for Aguirre and Severson LLP, an outside law firm hired by the district to make a California public records request on its behalf.

The district is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Riverside County over the approval of Ordinance 943, a law passed by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in June compelling the IID to provide additional incentives to electrical customers who have installed solar panels on their properties.

IID officials are opposed to the ordinance, saying that at stake is the district’s authority to set its own rates and that the district is already in compliance with California state law.

“IID’s business model allows the district to offer its customers some of the lowest residential electric rates in California — rates that are as much as 50 percent lower than that of neighboring investor-owned utilities. The ordinance, should it be implemented, jeopardizes these rates and sets a bad public policy that has the potential to impact other public power providers across the state,” IID communications specialist Robert Schettler said in a statement.

The ordinance passed by Riverside County — which is not in effect, but in a court-ordered stay while the suit makes its way through legal proceedings — establishes new regulations and procedures for irrigation districts like IID that are operating net-energy metering programs. Net-energy metering is a program designed to benefit customers who generate their own electricity, usually via rooftop solar panels.

The Brown Act violation allegations are believed to be contained in a series of correspondence Aguirre and Severson requested between Riverside County officials and staff and principals in Renova Energy, a private solar installation company based in Palm Desert that appears to have pushed for the ordinance according to a series of emails.

“Because of the rather troubling aspects of the way this thing was passed, we asked outside counsel to make a public records request,” IID General Counsel Frank Oswalt said.

Oswalt said Riverside County responded to the records request Oct. 2 and within a series of email correspondence attorneys believed they found two emails, or examples, in which the Brown Act was violated.

The Brown Act states, Oswalt said, that a legislative body such as the Riverside County Board of Supervisors “shall not outside a meeting, use a series of communications to discuss, deliberate or take action” on a subject within its jurisdiction.

In a letter to the Riverside County board from IID Deputy County Counsel Joanna Smith Hoff:

“Email correspondence produced by [Riverside] County reveal extensive, non-public solicitation and collection of votes by Supervisor V. Manuel Perez at the insistence of [Renova Energy owner Vincent] Battaglia. For example, by email dated May 5, 2018, Supervisor Perez urged Thomas S. Freeman, a senior Perez staff member:

‘Tom, let’s count the votes. Use this information and the fact that Renova will indemnify. If votes still not there, we will need Vince (Battagalia) to knock on those doors to get us there.’”

Smith Hoff’s letter goes on to cite a second email where Perez lobbies Riverside County Deputy Chief Executive Officer Brian Nestande on May 1:

“Hey Brian, what are we waiting on now? Let’s move this forward. Let’s count the votes. V. Manuel Perez”

Smith Hoff writes: “It is clear from the above emails that Supervisor Perez worked through intermediaries to develop concurrence on Ordinance 943 out of public view and prior to any public consideration of the matter by the board.”

Further, IID alleges in Smith Hoff’s letter that the email correspondence also shows “a secretly negotiated indemnity agreement between Mr. Battaglia and his companies (Renova and ERA) on the one hand, and the county of Riverside on the other, that preceded any public board consideration or action in connection with the adoption of Ordinance 943.”

“We see this letter,” Smith Hoff writes, “as providing you [Riverside] an opportunity to rectify an illegal action avoiding the need for further litigation.” From the date of the letter, Oct. 12, the IID has given Riverside County 30 days to respond or be subject to legal action.

Riverside County officials deny any wrongdoing.

“The Riverside County Board of Supervisors has and will continue to adhere to the requirements of the Ralph M. Brown Act. The allegations by the Imperial Irrigation District have no merit. Board members did not engage in any serial meetings in advance of the ordinance’s introduction and adoption. The recent disclosure of emails in response to IID’s public records request does not change the fact that there were no serial meetings,” Riverside County spokesman Ray Smith wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon.

Aguirre and Severson partner Maria Severson took the IID Board of Directors and those assembled at Tuesday’s meeting through a history of the “behind-the-scenes” development of the ordinance by way of a chain of emails outlining negotiations between Battaglia, Perez and others. There was a specific call to arms against the IID from Battaglia, according to the emails. Battaglia makes references to going to “war” with IID and in another instance calling the IID Board of Directors “rogue, corrupt and environmentally tone-deaf” through the development of the ordinance and the alleged negotiation of the indemnity agreement.

IID is “wasting rate payer money challenging a law they know they have no right to challenge,” Battaglia said Wednesday. “We addressed this Brown Act business. They are throwing anything at the wall to try to make it stick.”

Battaglia said the IID is trying to “paint it as if this greedy solar guy is trying to bring net-metering back. … It’s a just a game they are playing now trying to smear me. … It’s a cartel down there. I understand that mentality; I’m just not going to put up with that.”

He added that any dealings he had with Riverside County officials was above board and legal.

No action was taken on the Brown Act issue by the IID board, as the issue was placed on the meeting agenda as an information-only item. None of the board members nor IID General Manager Kevin Kelley commented on the issue; Oswalt advised, “In fact, it would probably be inappropriate for the board to comment on it.”

Meanwhile, IID filed suit against Riverside over the ordinance back on July 13 in Riverside County Superior Court. The ordinance in question has not gone into effect, as the IID won a stay pending further consideration of the merits of the case. The parties are next due in court Nov. 6 in Los Angeles, seen as a neutral site by the court.

First page of letter written to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors

 

 

 

From the LA Times: Link California’s clean energy to the rest of the west? Sounds great, but it’s risky

Earlier this week the Editorial Board at the Los Angeles Times wrote the following:

Link California’s clean energy to the rest of the west? Sounds great, but it’s risky

By THE TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD

JUL 02, 2018

The state of California is considering forming a regional electrical grid to jointly manage power transmission in multiple western states, and the potential benefits are enormous: It would provide a gigantic new market for California utilities to sell the overabundance of solar power they generate

Coal in the Western United States

during the day, as well as giving them access to an equally generous array of hydroelectric- and wind-generated electricity from other states to power the lights when the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean.

Electricity rates would plunge, supporters say, given that the fuel for clean power is free and infinitely self-renewing. Coal plants and natural gas couldn’t compete over the long run and would shut down because, really, who wants to pay extra for dirty air? And eventually the big western skies would be as clear and carbon-free as they were before the first wagon rattled along the Oregon Trail. Best of all, despite the persistent efforts of the climate change deniers running the federal government, the U.S. would be a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Take that, Mr. President!

That’s the pretty picture painted by the people (one of whom is Gov. Jerry Brown) pushing the California Legislature to vote this summer to dissolve the California Independent System Operator, the entity that runs the state’s electrical grid, and replace it with a new regional organization that would buy and distribute electricity among any western states and utilities that want to participate.

But like any big payout, it requires taking a gamble. And right now ratepayer advocates, consumer groups, municipal utilities and some environmental groups say the risks are too great. (Other environmental groups are supporting the big grid proposal because of the potential to spur more states to make the transition to renewables.)

The proposal’s biggest risk is that California would have to hand over control of its power grid to an as-yet unknown entity, sacrificing the safeguards put into place two decades ago after another such gamble — on deregulation — triggered an electricity crisis that plunged the power grid into chaos.

Right now, Cal-ISO is a nonprofit public benefit corporation with board members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. And in addition to adhering to state open-meeting laws and procedural rules, it must operate in the best interests of Californians — not of, say, Utahns, who have already expressed hostility toward California’s climate change policies and their effects on coal revenues. The bill says that the new board must also follow the state’s rules or else California will take its power grid and go home. That’s easier said than done once the state has already signed over management of its infrastructure to a board answerable not to Californians, but to President Trump’s appointees on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Proponents are also worried about a not-inconceivable scenario in which California would be forced to subsidize coal-power plants within the regional market to help Trump achieve one of his campaign promises.

The Legislature should not pass this plan, at least not right now and not in its current form. Under the proposal, the Legislature would give its blessing to the development of a governing board to oversee the regional market without knowing its composition or structure. (The bill specifies that there would be a western states committee with three members from each state to provide unspecified “guidance” to the governing board.) Final details would be worked out later and approved by the California Energy Commission. It’s troubling that the measure provides no mechanism for the Legislature to pull out if the plan evolves into something that may not be in the state’s best interests.

There’s no ticking clock here. California isn’t in danger of falling behind in its green power goals. In fact, it is well on track to have half its power come from renewable sources by 2030, as mandated by state law. Nor is there reason to think renewable power won’t catch on if there’s no regional market. Solar- and wind-generated electricity is getting cheaper every year. Someday — possibly very soon — an interconnected multi-state regional electric grid may be the safest and most sensible way to go for the next phase of clean power. But the risks are simply greater than the need at the moment.

Link to editorial here.

Exclusive: Tesla to close a dozen solar facilities in nine states

You may have seen this last week…

The latest cuts to the division that was once SolarCity – a sales and installation company founded by two cousins of Tesla CEO Elon Musk – include closing about a dozen installation facilities, according to internal company documents, and ending a retail partnership with Home Depot Inc that the current and former employees said generated about half of its sales.

Exclusive: Tesla to close a dozen solar facilities in nine states -…

Please take a few moments and subscribe to our newsletter.

Forbes.com: Subsidizing The Rich Through California’s Solar Scheme

We found this article while scanning the web on rooftop solar info. Below is a small pull out, but you can read the complete article here.

Subsidizing The Rich Through California’s Solar Scheme

So what’s the problem? First, the credit paid in California for the excess solar power is far higher than the cost of alternative electricity sources, usually from utilities or from the spot power market. Consumers without such solar installations have to finance that excessively expensive electricity, so that overall power prices are forced above the level that would prevail in the absence of the net metering system. This system, by the way, subsidizes the affluent (median income of those installing solar systems: $91,210) at the expense of all other power consumers (median of $67,821), an embarrassing reality from which the supporters of the net-metering system prefer to avert their eyes. 

Subsidizing The Rich Through California’s Solar Scheme

“That’s why we oppose AB 813, for the third time in three years…”

We received the following email last week from the Sierra Club. It is worth reading, then calling you state Senator and Assemblymember to tell them you oppose AB 813 too!

Sometimes wonky, inside-baseball issues can wind up creating worrisome risks for the environment, communities and workers.

Whether California should become part of a new, multi-state regional transmission organization (RTO) that oversees how electricity flows around the west is just such an issue. The idea is sometimes referred to in the press as a regional grid.

In simple terms, the idea is to create a collaboration of several states, including California, that would be able to easily sell energy back and forth across state lines and throughout the west.

Wind turbines

So everyone who loves renewable energy should just get on board this peace train, right?

Wellllll, not exactly. As it turns out, without the right kinds of boundaries and rules, this great idea can go quickly amok.

For instance, as Sierra Club’s experts on how energy companies and markets in the west work note, it’s very possible that if not designed the right way, a regional grid could result in “resource shuffling.” That is, it might actually encourage certain coal-heavy power companies to extend the life of their plants in one part of the west and shift the renewable energy to California. Or it could fire up more natural gas plants here and in other states.

All that extended and increased use of fossil fuel plants to accommodate the ability of California’s “excess” renewable energy to flow east and the Interior West’s supply to flow to California can add up to more localized air pollution, especially for communities already struggling with dirty air, and more greenhouse gas pollution. That equals human health and planet health impacts.

There are also economic risks that cut to the core of whether California will build a more equitable economy.

California has been steadily adding renewable energy to its energy mix. This has meant lots of new jobs building big and small renewable energy generation. And not just any jobs, but good-paying jobs. Many of these jobs are held by union labor and come with good healthcare benefits and retirement plans. These are jobs that demonstrate that you can have a clean environment and a living wage.

What happens if California’s single-state transmission operator suddenly becomes a multi-state entity with states that have cheap labor, cheap land and anti-union laws? Thanks to legislation passed a couple of years ago, the biggest proponent of regionalization, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) hired a consultant to tackle that question.

The answer was that regionalization could likely result in the loss of 110,000 jobs in the energy sector in California. That’s almost as many jobs as there are people in Berkeley.

There’s also an interesting political risk.

There’s a guy in the White House now who doesn’t like—well, apparently actually hates—renewable energy and just about anything California stands for. He appoints the majority of commissioners on the federal body that sets the rules about how RTOs operate their electricity transmission.

If California, which through the CAISO is essentially its own RTO, joins with other states in a new RTO, that new RTO will have a governing board made up of people from the other states. If the federal body comes up with a new rule that California disagrees with, but the other states in the RTO agree with, what happens? Does California just leave the RTO and is that even possible?

Is now really the time to dive into this kind of risk?

These questions and issues are among those that Sierra Club staff and activist volunteers have been asking and raising for the better part of the three years that the legislature has been considering regionalization.

Throughout that time, we have been unable to resolve our concerns. That’s partly because opening up our state to a regional market simply means accepting certain risks. We aren’t willing to put our full faith in the market to deliver an equitable energy economy that benefits–rather than harms–polluted communities and that provides long-term, good-paying jobs. We remain genuinely concerned about exposing California to the undue weirdness of the supreme tweeter’s appointees’ whims.

And that’s why we have most recently opposed Assembly Bill 813, a bill crafted in the open, but not crafted well enough to protect California from the worst potential effects of regionalization. You can read our explanation of our opposition via the letter we signed onto with consumers and labor.

Dozens of other groups have opposed this bill.

But the governor supports it and spent some time the night before it came up for its first committee vote last week calling legislators on the committee and urging them to support the bill. It passed that committee and on Tuesday will face the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill is based on an interesting idea. But it doesn’t provide the protections we need for the environment, public health and the economy.

We can do better than this. We must do better than this.

That’s why we oppose AB 813 and again, for the third time in three years, find ourselves fighting a wonky, inside-baseball issue.

Sincerely,

Kathryn Phillips

Director

 

Despite fear of Trump, California considers sharing control of power grid

Another news story about the scheme to hand control over California’s energy choice to others who don’t believe in climate change or robust renewable energy.

Opponents see it as a direct threat to California’s clean-energy policies.

It could cede at least some control over California’s power lines and electricity market to coal-producing states such as Wyoming and Utah whose energy policies do not align with California’s. The proposed regional grid organization also would operate squarely under the oversight of a federal government that, under President Trump, is searching for ways to keep coal-fired power plants alive.

“You’ve got to look at who we’re partnering with,” said Loretta Lynch, former president of the California Public Utilities Commission. “We’re not partnering with people who want to be clean and green.”

The new system, critics fear, could even open California’s electricity market to the kind of manipulation that plunged the state into rolling blackouts during the 2000-01 electricity crisis.

You can read the complete story on the San Francisco Chronicle’s web site by clicking here.

The new solar mandate: A leap forward or a step back?

This is a great article from our semi-local favorite, the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Here are some pull-outs from “The new solar mandate: A leap forward or a step back?”:

First, rooftop solar systems generate electricity that is anywhere from two to six times more costly than large renewable sources like utility-scale solar farms.

“Rooftop solar is an extremely expensive way to move to zero-carbon energy,” Borenstein said. “It costs a lot more than grid-scale solar. It is not cost-effective for the system as a whole.”That, Bushnell argues, raises the question about whether a mandate was really needed.

“It is a blunt instrument,” Bushnell said. “If you’re building a new home, you have a bunch of choices to make about exactly how energy-efficient you want it to be … And installing solar is now in the ‘you gotta do it’ category.”

Critics worry the new rule could crowd out lower-cost, more efficient renewable energy sources in the future.

As more solar customers get credited at the retail price, there is upward pressure on rates to cover the utilities’ costs (provided the CPUC approves those rate increases).

Borenstein says that leads to costs moving from those who have rooftop solar on their homes to those who do not.

“The CEC says individual homeowners will save money,” Borenstein said. “But they’re only going to save money because they are essentially shifting costs to other consumers, other ratepayers.”

To read the complete article please click here.

2018 Energy & Sustainability Summit

Leadership in an Era of Rollbacks & Setbacks

Overview
In 2017, after years of forward progress, the globe took a step backward as some of the world’s most important environmental protections were loosened and jeopardized. At the same time, last year saw the global transition to clean energy intensify as well as a renewed focus on public-private partnerships to advance environmental sustainability.
With the cost of renewables continuing to fall at an unprecedented rate, policy makers and business leaders increasingly feel emboldened to advance concrete commitments and work to accelerate climate action, even in the face of determined efforts to prolong the inevitable transition to clean energy. While the U.S. government pulled out of the Paris Agreement, American businesses resoundingly said “We’re still in”, and over 50 U.S. cities put forward ambitious timetables for getting to 100% clean energy.
Business is also advancing environmental sustainability and looking to increase profitability while reducing dependence on natural resources in a constrained world. Additionally, companies are looking to align their corporate strategy with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals; realizing the SDGs, it’s projected, could create upwards of 350 million jobs and opportunities worth $12 trillion across a range of sectors.

Join Us on May 24! Silicon Valley Energy & Sustainability Summit 2018
Join us on May 24 at Oracle to learn about the latest policy and regulatory developments and to explore how to employ the latest innovative technologies and practices to create lasting value and explore what you can do on a practical level to prepare for an evolving landscape. The 6th Annual Silicon Valley Energy and Sustainability Summit will include C-Suite plenaries, policy round tables and case studies, all focused on the business case for clean and efficient energy, environmental sustainability, water conservation and climate action. The event brings together policy experts, elected and appointed officials, business executives and NGO leaders for a series of thoughtful and engaging discussions.