California’s Energy Commission has been served with two lawsuits in the past two weeks over complaints that it has failed to comply with laws requiring it to maximize the benefits of clean fuels, including renewable gases. In combination, the suits argue that California’s low carbon energy future is not being served well by regulators. It is very difficult to arrive at any other conclusion given a number of facts surrounding the cases.
First, it is, an illusion that 100 percent electrification –– the agenda responsible for fomenting the recent lawsuits –– equates to de-carbonization. The obvious miss for all-electrification advocates is that more than one-third of California’s electric grid is energized by fossil fuels. Another four percent of the energy consumed in the state is done so by burning biomass; a carbon-releasing practice even groups like 350.org has disavowed. Mandating 100 percent electrification does nothing to change these facts or de-carbonize the air.
Banning clean gases also ignores real social and environmental justice facts. California’s poverty rate is the highest in the nation. At the same time, the average California household pays about $1,700 per year for electricity, one of the highest rates in the nation, driven in large part by billions of dollars in additional costs to support renewable-energy mandates. One study shows that household incomes in the places that have banned or restricted fuel gases have median incomes 80 percent higher than the national average and 46 percent higher than the California median. The lust by some for a zero-carbon future should not override our social responsibility to the many who are economically disadvantaged.
Utility scale batteries, essential to the all-electrification agenda, pose one of the greatest environmental justice hazards of our time. Lithium-ion batteries, including those powering electric vehicles, are comprised of rare earth elements like lithium, cobalt and manganese. A recent United Nations report warns that the source of these materials are places like the Democratic Republic of Congo where child labor and worker protection practices in so-called artisanal mines, are virtually non-existent.
The no-carbon fallacy of batteries and electric vehicles also mask other facts. Energy Analyst Tilak Doshi published a recent article revealing that the upstream carbon-intensity of manufacturing an electric vehicle is actually more than double that of a conventional car. This is important for California as just under 40 percent of the state’s energy is consumed by the transportation sector and transportation contributes more than a third of the human-produced greenhouse gases.
Closely related is the state’s new clean trucks rule, which focuses almost exclusively on replacing dirty fuels with grid-charged vehicles (the term zero-emissions is also a misnomer) to achieve goals more than a decade away. Why not start today? Clean gas fuels like propane as just one example, paired with proven conservation technologies like regenerative braking systems, dramatically reduce carbon emissions and fuel consumption. At the same time, these clean technologies don’t burden fleet buyers with the shocking sticker prices of grid-charged trucks or invade their payload capacity with thousands of pounds of bulky batteries.
Lawsuits like those filed against California’s Energy Commission reflect a deep frustration on the part of an energy industry aligned to the state’s carbon emissions goals, but routinely brushed aside by single-minded solutions that leave the state’s residents vulnerable to blackouts and price gouging. When advocates become activists and decide there’s only one acceptable way to address an extraordinarily complex issue like decarbonization, it’s a good bet someone is being unfairly penalized. Right now, that’s the California taxpayer who is footing the bill for the lawsuits now facing the Energy Commission.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tucker Perkins, President and CEO
Tucker is an engineer, entrepreneur, business leader, speaker and is now the president and chief executive officer of the Propane Education & Research Council. He has worked in the propane industry nearly his entire professional career, having served as the director of business development for Inergy, chief executive officer of Premier Propane, and the chief operating officer of Columbia Propane, a unit of the Columbia Energy Group. Tucker is also the former chairman of a PERC advisory committee on engine fuel matters and is active with the National Propane Gas Association and the Virginia Propane Gas Association.