IID exhausts Riverside County into repealing net metering ordinance, dealing blow to solar

The Desert Sun published an article on Sunday, June 23. Below is a clip from the article, followed by a link to the complete article online.

IID will likely withdraw the lawsuit it filed last year over the ordinance, the district’s General Counsel Frank Oswalt said, but it will still fight to recoup its legal fees.

“We applaud (the board of supervisors) and believe it’s the right decision, but we’re dismayed it’s taken this long and at such a tremendous cost,” Oswalt said. “In order to make the IID whole, there has to be recognition that we’ve incurred substantial legal costs. It’s not right for them to just walk away. The IID Board has spent hundreds of thousands on legal fees and this can’t be over.”

The complete article can be accessed here.

From the Desert Sun: Bill requiring IID board seats for Coachella Valley paused until 2020; IID says divestment still an option

Sam Metz, Palm Springs Desert Sun

Published 6:30 p.m. PT May 16, 2019 | Updated 2:59 a.m. PT May 18, 2019

Assemblymember Chad Mayes’ controversial bill to add Riverside County representatives to the Imperial Irrigation District’s Board of Directors hit a roadblock on Thursday when the Assembly Appropriations Committee put it on hold until 2020.

The bill, A.B. 854, failed to advance to the Assembly floor but also avoided being relegated to committee’s dreaded “suspense file,” which would have effectively defeated it. The Appropriations Committee will next consider the bill in 2020.

After Thursday’s hearing, Mayes said the fight over voting rights and representation for IID ratepayers residing in Riverside County was far from over. Mayes said he planned to meet with the IID Board of Directors in El Centro Friday morning to discuss his concerns about Riverside County representation on IID’s board.

“This bill’s not dead. We’re continuing to work on it. It’s incredibly important for all the local stakeholders to get together,” Mayes said. “We have to figure this out.”

IID and Coachella Valley residents have fought about representation for almost a century, since the irrigation district and the Coachella Valley Water District reached an agreement to expand IID’s jurisdiction to sell electricity in the Coachella Valley. Local officials from the Coachella Valley have lobbied for additional seats on IID’s board since at least seats 2007. Mayes said he remained committed to ensuring Coachella Valley ratepayers won representation on the IID board.

“IID has the ability to change utility rates, determine investment in communities or cut service altogether,” he said. “This power over 92,000 disenfranchised voters must be balanced with representation.”

Mayes’ bill proposes adding six seats to IID’s five-member board to give the 92,000 Riverside County customers who account for 60% of IID’s electricity sales proportional representation. The bill generated swift backlash from both IID’s board and Imperial Valley activists, who called it a Riverside County power grab and said it threatened their water rights.

After preliminary discussions with Mayes, IID board President Erik Ortega sent the assemblyman a strongly worded letter rejecting future conversations.

The tactic backfired when the Assembly Local Government Committee advanced the bill with a 6-2 vote on April 24 after some committee members said they voted in favor of it largely due to their disapproval of the letter.

A week later, Ortega said, if the bill advanced further, IID would consider withdrawing services from the Coachella Valley.

IID lobbyist Antonio Ortega said the district was pleased with Thursday’s outcome and committed to sitting down to talk with Mayes, Coachella Valley Water District and ratepayers about representation.

“Regardless of the outcome of today, the purpose was to continue to have this dialogue at the local level,” he said. “It’s easier to have a discussion without having the threat of A.B. 854 hanging over our heads.”

Even though IID threatened to divest from the Coachella Valley if the bill advanced, Ortega said the district felt under threat by A.B. 854. He said the bill threatened the delicate relationship between IID and the Coachella Valley Water District, IID’s current governance structure and potentially the district’s water rights.

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” Ortega said, citing Newton’s Third Law. “Divestment isn’t a threat, it’s an option.”

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, condemned IID’s political brinksmanship after it proposes divesting from the Coachella Valley, but on Thursday, he echoed the district’s talking points and said fights about representation on IID’s board would be best solved locally.

The powerful Democratic lawmaker represents both the eastern Coachella Valley and the Imperial Valley in the Assembly and has said he opposes the bill but thinks questions about Riverside County representation merit a discussion.

“The willingness of parties to come to the table demonstrates good faith efforts on all sides to resolve this matter locally without the need for legislation. Putting A.B. 854 on hold will allow for these negotiations to move forward,” he said.

https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/16/iid-board-coachella-valley-remake-bill-pause-until-2020/3694964002/

AB 854 – Some very bad legislation…

On March 5, 2019, the Imperial County Building & Construction Trades sent a letter to Assemblymember Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) asking him to reconsider AB 854, legislation he introduced that has several issues.

This is the letter in opposition of AB 854. If you agree that this piece of legislation is bad for the Imperial Valley contact Assemblymember Mayes, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia and Senator Ben Hueso.

Imperial Valley Press: IID scores initial win in legal battle with Riverside County

Riverside County Slammed by Judge Granting a Preliminary Injunction Requested by the Imperial Irrigation District…..In granting the injunction, the Judge found that the county’s ordinance conflicts with state law and, if enacted, would cause irreparable harm to the district, said Frank Oswalt, IID general counsel. 

IID Also Believes Riverside Violated Brown Act 

IID scores initial win in legal battle with Riverside County

By IMPERIAL VALLEY PRESS STAFF

https://www.ivpressonline.com/news/local/iid-scores-initial-win-in-legal-battle-with-riverside-county/article_201256da-e248-11e8-a656-574c5f5502d2.html

Nov. 7, 2018

 LOS ANGELES — A County Superior Court judge here on Tuesday granted a preliminary injunction preventing the county of Riverside from implementing an ordinance that, if enacted, would bypass the authority of the Imperial Irrigation District to set electric rates for its customers, according to an IID press release.

In granting the injunction, Judge Mary Strobel found that the county’s ordinance conflicts with state law and, if enacted, would cause irreparable harm to the district, Frank Oswalt, IID general counsel, reported.

Although no final rulings were made, Oswalt said the court determined that there was a likely probability that IID would prevail if the matter were fully contested, according to IID. Further, should the ordinance be enacted, the IID board and staff would be irreparably harmed by the prescribed criminal penalties in the ordinance, and the district harmed by the millions of dollars in unrecoverable costs to implement it, according to the district release.

In June, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved Ordinance No. 943, which would have required IID to scrap its publicly vetted and board-adopted solar tariff, net-energy billing and create a new solar tariff that closely resembles that of a privately owned utility, Southern California Edison.

All this came at the request of a private business owner whose business is located in Riverside County and stands to directly benefit financially from the impacts of this ordinance, according to the IID. The district is referring to Renova Energy owner Vincent Battaglia.

“The notion that Riverside County would usurp IID’s ratemaking authority and adopt an ordinance that violates state law is inherently unreasonable and unprecedented,” said James Hanks, IID board president. “Today’s action by the court is a win for the district and its ratepayers.”

In making her ruling, Judge Strobel also noted several potential areas in which the county’s ordinance may conflict with the Public Utilities Act.

Among those areas are:

“First and most critically, section 2827 (of the Public Utilities Act) provides that a [public owned utility], such as the petitioner (IID), is not required to offer NEM (net-energy metering) programs beyond its 5 percent participation cap provided for under that statute,” the judge wrote. “The ordinance directly conflicts with this general law because it imposes NEM requirement on [IID] ‘as expansive’ as NEM 2.0, which does not have this participation cap.”

Second, the same section defines the ratemaking authority of a publicly owned utility as the board of that utility. “That board has the authority to determine when … the utility is not obligated to provide NEM to additional customer-generators. … The ordinance, in contrast, grants [Riverside County] the authority to regulate [IID’s] rates for NEM credits, and it purports to regulate [IID’s] NEM activities as if it were an [investor-owned utility] under the ratemaking authority of the [California Public Utilities Commission],” the judge wrote in her decision.

Riverside County officials did not comment when contacted by the Imperial Valley Press.

Recently, IID alleged 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 Ordinance 943.

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. From the date of the letter, Oct. 12, the IID has given Riverside County 30 days to respond or be subject to legal action.

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 -…

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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