California’s alternative-energy program under scrutiny
Billions spent on wind, hydrogen, cow manure projects are questioned after some investments go bust, but the program is expected to grow. It could surpass current state support for the UC system.
California is spending nearly $15 million to build 10 hydrogen fueling stations, even though just 227 hydrogen-powered vehicles exist in the state today.
It’s a hefty bet on the future, given that government officials have been trying for nine years, with little success, to get automakers to build more hydrogen cars.
The project is part of a sprawling but little-known state program that packs a powerful financial punch: It spent $1.6 billion last year on a myriad of energy-efficiency and alternative-energy projects.
Even as California has scaled back education, law enforcement and assistance to the disabled in this era of financial stress, the energy program has continued unrestrained and is expected to grow significantly in coming years.
State agencies have invested in milk trucks that run on cow manure, power plants fueled by ocean tides and artificial photosynthesis for powering vehicles and buildings.
The spending is drawing increasing scrutiny. Some of the energy investments have gone bust, electricity costs have soared, and some economists have disputed the benefits. The legality of some consumer fees that fund the programs also is being challenged in court.
The alternative-energy projects are largely financed by small charges on electricity bills or obscure consumer fees that are seldom noticed. The hydrogen fueling stations, for example, will be financed by a $3 fee on license plates.
Proponents of this spending say the funds are working the way they were designed. The money is helping position the state as an international leader in energy-conservation technology, said Michael Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission.
“We are on a mission to deal with climate change,” said Peevey, who oversees most of the spending. “It is considered a great success story.”
Not everybody is convinced that the investments are doing any good for ratepayers.
“Suddenly, you look up and there are literally hundreds of millions of dollars going into investments that produce marginal benefits,” said state Sen. Rod Wright (D-Inglewood), a member of the Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee.
“You know the tale of Robin Hood? Well, this is robbing the ‘hood,” he said. “You are taking from poor people to give to rich people.”