This past week was filled with Smart Grid-related conferences, starting with an Electric Vehicles Consumer Adoption Summit organized by IQPC in San Francisco and ending with the Silicon Valley Energy Summit co-sponsored by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University.  These two conferences highlighted the critical needs to build a Smart Grid infrastructure as quickly as possible to achieve energy security, improve our environment, and intelligently reduce our consumption of energy.

One conference presenter at the EV Summit noted that we’ve already surpassed the point of no return for cheap and easily-extracted oil.  It only gets more expensive and environmentally-risky, and we have only to view the realtime monitor of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico to see indisputable evidence of both. 

Much discussion focused on a cynical proposition will appear on the November 2010 California ballot.  This proposition intends to repeal Assembly Bill 32 (AB32) – the California Global Warming Solutions Act passed in 2006 with the goal to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels.  The proposition signature drive was funded by two Texas energy companies – Tesoro and Valero – which also happen to be two of the largest air pollution emitters in California.  However, they claim to want to repeal this critical standard because energy regulations kill jobs.  They recommend that California postpone action on AB32 emission standards until state unemployment drops to 5.5% for a year.

Every Californian should suspect the motives of Texas energy companies.  Remember Enron?  We endured two days of rolling blackouts in June 2000 that were engineered by that company in a fraudulent series of schemes that resulted in millions of dollars of business losses, threats to the health and safety of Californians, and bankruptcy of a major utility. 

Do regulations kill jobs?  Let’s get the facts straight.    

Fact:  Regulations have real and tangible benefits. Because of strict energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, California uses less electricity per capita than every other state.  That’s good for our economy and citizens, saving over $56 billion in energy bills and avoiding buildouts of 15 large power plants, paid for by higher electricity rates.   Appliance manufacturers and retailers have not gone out of business as a result of these regulations.

Fact:  During this bleak economic period, clean tech jobs are growing 10 times faster than the statewide average.  A new report by California’s Employment Development Department identifies over half a million green jobs in the state, ranging from blue collar to white collar occupations.  The recession has not been kind to California.  But clean tech businesses thrive in California because of a statewide standard instead of a regulatory patchwork from 58 counties, 480 cities, and 2300 special districts. 

So why do Texas energy companies want to mess with California?  It’s all about protecting an energy infrastructure based on dirty fossil fuels.  It’s about protecting their profits at the expense of a growing clean tech economy and improved air quality for millions of people. 

Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”  Similarly, we can’t solve our energy problems by continued reliance on the fossil fuels or the infrastructure that creates them. 

Building a Smart Grid reduces reliance on fossil fuels in several ways.  First, Smart Grid technologies enable significant integration of renewable and clean energy sources for electricity production.  Second, Smart Grid technologies accelerate the electrification of our transportation system.  Third, Smart Grid technologies enable us to optimize grid efficiency, getting the maximum value for consumed energy.  

California, the epicenter of venture capital investment in clean technologies and often the state leader in energy policies, has an opportunity with AB32 to generate even more advances in Smart Grid technologies and objectives.  California voters have the opportunity this November to tell Texas energy companies – don’t mess with the Smart Grid, don’t mess with clean tech, and don’t mess with California. 

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