A fast solution is rarely a good one. But unfortunately, in a rush to address the energy crisis, our legislators are considering a "quick fix" that threatens to kill one of the few good developments to come out of the infamous deregulation bill, AB-1890 , namely, customers' ability to choose green power.
Green power is electric energy generated from renewable resources like solar energy, wind power, geothermal energy and small hydroelectric dams. Renewable resources typically have lower environmental impacts than traditional sources of generation. Currently, about 12 percent of California's electricity comes from these renewable sources while 88 percent is provided by traditional sources of generation like coal, nuclear, gas and large hydroelectric dams.
After AB-1890 became law, consumers were empowered for the first time to choose their electricity provider and decide exactly where their energy dollars would go. Environmentally conscious consumers and businesses voted in favor of green power by buying energy from 100 percent renewable resources. Just like a decision to buy organic food products or recycled goods, thousands of Californians decided to take advantage of their energy freedom and sought to make a positive contribution to our environment and natural resources.
During the first two years after AB-1890 was passed, nearly 180,000 California residential and small business customers chose an alternative provider. Almost all chose a green energy product from my company or one of our competitors. While this number is small compared to the total number of Californians (roughly two percent), it is impressive for a brand new market where customers never before had the opportunity to shop. This figure compares favorably to the market penetration rates when long distance telephone service was first de-monopolized.
But environmentally friendly households were not the only ones to choose green power. Large, well-known companies like Toyota USA, Patagonia, Birkenstock, Fetzer Vineyards, and the cities of Santa Monica and Chula Vista, all made the choice for cleaner energy , despite in most cases, paying more than they would have if they had stayed with their utility. The non-profit group Episcopal Power and Light was successful in getting several hundred churches in California to switch to renewable energy.
But today, as the state rushes into the business of buying power, it is simultaneously taking away customers' right to buy the cleaner power product of their choice. Legislation passed in February that allows the state to buy power on behalf of the utilities also gave the California Public Utilities Commission the authority to end customer choice at any time. Now the PUC has placed an order on its June 28 agenda that would do just that.
California has always been a nationwide leader in environmental issues. Now is not the time to turn back on our roots. If lawmakers vote to end direct access, what's next? No more recycling? Policymakers should support energy legislation that maintains customer choice. California citizens deserve direct access and so does our environment.
Counihan is vice president and general manager of Green Mountain Energy Co.