COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | DANIEL COFFEY

Time to simplify and focus: AB 327

Over the past three centuries, and accelerating dramatically after World War II, we, the increasingly numerous people of Earth, have collectively built an energy accumulation machine, a device as simple as it is colossal, as subtle as it is relentless, as uncontrollable as it is destructive and powerful. Call it the Extra Greenhouse Gas Machine or EGG-Machine.

The EGG-Machine consists of three main parts: the sun as a relentless external energy source, a planet and a thin atmosphere containing greenhouse gases to accumulate energy by slowing radiant energy losses from the planet to dark space.

The principle is simple: Earth, absent greenhouse gases, would quickly re-emit the sun’s energy to space and thus have a very chilly average temperature of -2 degrees Fahrenheit (F). However, with the planet’s pre-industrial atmosphere at roughly 260 parts-per-million (ppm) carbon dioxide (CO2), the equilibrated average temperature was about 58 degrees Fahrenheit.

The 60-degree rise in temperature is undeniably and directly due to the presence of CO2, water vapor and other trace greenhouse gases (GHG).

Earth is rendered wonderful, forgiving, fruitful and bountiful with plants and animals at the correct atmospheric GHG concentrations. However, once put into the EGG-Machine, every pound of CO2 adds its energy accumulation power to the whole and the consequences of higher GHG concentrations are decidedly unpleasant.

Indeed, among the earliest results of dialing up the EGG-Machine by adding more GHG and thus increasing global warming, is severe and persistent drought in previously fertile, food-producing areas. For those who eat, this presents a major challenge.

Now for the harsh reality: on Mother’s Day, as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory, Earth’s atmosphere officially reached 400 ppm CO2. The carbon dioxide concentration continues to rise at roughly 2 ppm annually due to combustion of vast amounts of fossil fuels used by consumers for transportation, electricity and industry.

As more greenhouse gases are released to the atmosphere the rate of energy accumulation increases. But let’s be clear, even absent release of another pound of greenhouse gas, the present atmosphere will continue to accumulate staggering amounts of energy into Earth’s oceans, ice, atmosphere and environment.

Due to increased GHG concentrations, Earth now annually net accumulates roughly the energy equal to that released by exploding 145 million Hiroshima atomic bombs.

Once released, the important greenhouse gases last a long time and practically speaking can never be recalled. Thus, the EGG-Machine has no off switch and preventing releases of more GHG is the only remedy.

Any civil response requires massively electrifying transportation and decarbonizing electricity production as much and as rapidly as humanly possible. Time is of the essence.

Will, money and action are necessary, not dithering, debate and delay. We must do more, faster!

To that end it is worth noting that California’s current electricity rate structures don’t account for changes needed to rapidly and efficiently deal with responding to global warming. They create barriers to increased reliance on renewable energy sources, especially at the scale necessary to adequately reduce GHG emissions.

Legislation such as Assembly Bill 327, by Henry Perea, D-Fresno, is a necessary step in making rational and workable a rapid transition to an energy system based primarily on low or non-carbon renewable energy sources such as large-scale wind, solar photovoltaic (PV), hydro and geothermal facilities.

AB 327 would streamline the outdated electricity price structure put in place during California’s energy crisis and once again enable the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to develop a fair rate structure.

California's electricity system and energy policies have changed during the 12 years after deregulated energy markets were pursued. Our state has invested and will continue to invest billions of dollars to enable California’s necessary move toward use of greater amounts of renewable energy. These improvements are enormously beneficial to every Californian.

Current rate structures unfairly ask roughly 25 percent of California's residential electricity customers to pay for all of the additional investments, even as these improvements benefit all residential customers.

Without reform, the current system is simply unsustainable and ultimately undermines California’s exemplary efforts to lead the world in a transition to a low-GHG emission energy system.

AB 327 would enable the PUC to develop a fair rate structure to meet California's energy needs by coherently and accurately reflecting the cost of electric service, ensuring everyone pays a fair share of our state's investments.

Most importantly, AB 327 would provide protections for low‑income customers, ensuring they have access to a supply of electricity that is sufficient to affordably meet their requirements.

California absolutely must rapidly move toward the electric, energy and transportation system of the future, and to that end it is necessary to put in place the proper legislative framework to expedite the process. Passage of AB 327 appears to accomplish a fundamental step in that regard. We should support this important step toward streamlining a difficult and urgent task.

Coffey is an attorney based in San Diego. He can be reached at daniel.coffey@sddt.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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