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Will CA experiment in wind power work?

This story appeared on Calmatters

The sea port of the city of Morro Bay on July 18, 2023. Morro Bay would have increase the size of their sea port when the state lease planned offshore wind farm is constructed. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

From CalMatters environment reporter Julie Cart

Ocean waters off California’s coast are being prepared to host a massive experiment, floating beyond the continental shelf: Platforms with giant turbines and spinning rotors will capture the Pacific Ocean’s prodigious wind energy. Hundreds of square miles of the ocean about 20 miles off the coasts of Humboldt County and Morro Bay have been leased to five energy companies to build wind farms.

What’s envisioned has never happened anywhere before — wind platforms floating in such deep waters, so far from shore. The five wind farms would have hundreds of turbines, each as tall as a 70-story building. The state envisions that by 2045 offshore wind will produce enough carbon-free electricity for 25 million homes. 

But our CalMatters series, “Harnessing a Windfall,” reveals that their potential environmental impacts won’t be understood until they are already constructed and operating. And communities and tribes in the North Coast and Central Coast worry that the pace is so fast and the projects so massive that their local economies and environment are at risk.

  • California Coastal Commission staff, in a 2022 report: “…Realistically, we will not be able to know the full scope and scale of impacts from offshore wind to California’s marine resources until projects are in the water and we are able to monitor and measure the resulting effects.”

But Gov. Gavin Newsom and President Joe Biden are firmly behind the offshore wind initiative, and the projects will need that support. Creating an offshore wind industry in California is going to require a massive private and public investment and significant upgrades to ports and the electricity grid.

 A short list: 

  • At least $8 billion to build transmission lines and related infrastructure.
  • Hundreds of millions in state and federal grants and tax incentives to help the companies develop, assemble and build large floating wind farms. Each project could cost an estimated $5 billion from start to finish.
  • $260 billion in the next 20 years to fortify a domestic supply chain for the Europe-based industry.

Along with the costs come potential benefits: Aside from being critical to meeting California’s clean energy and climate goals, the wind projects could inject jobs and development into struggling regions of the state.

  • Scott Adair, Humboldt County’s director of economic development: “We were given this gift of this potentially massive economic opportunity. And it might, it might have some real energy benefits to it as well. But we aren’t necessarily equipped to or capable of receiving that gift, at least not at this scale. We need to be careful.”

In contrast to the measured but hopeful view from the North Coast, some residents along California’s Central Coast fear that the construction and maintenance will alter their quiet communities.

  • Rachel Wilson, Cayucos resident who regularly attends public meetings about the wind projects: “This is just another attempt to industrialize the coast. I can just see Port Hueneme with cranes and lights and a huge wharf, in my charming little coastal community. No way.”

Read more about the issue in our two-part series, focusing on the North Coast and the Central Coast.  

What do you think about offshore wind farms? Email commentary@calmatters.org for the chance to be included in a piece showcasing reader reactions.

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1
1,000 bills later, Newsom is done

Gov. Gavin Newsom during a press conference where he signed new gun legislation into law at the Capitol Annex Swing Space in Sacramento on Sept. 26, 2023.
Gov. Gavin Newsom during a press conference at the Capitol Annex in Sacramento on Sept. 26, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

Gov. Newsom finished going through about 1,000 bills passed by the Legislature, and he did it with a day to spare. Before wrapping up Friday night, however, he signed a big one: A $25 minimum wage for health care workers, a compromise between labor and the industry. Earlier, he approved another business-union deal that will give fast food workers at least $20 an hour next April.

As CalMatters’ Ana B. Ibarra reports, about 469,000 Californians, including medical technicians, nursing assistants, custodians and other support staff will see a gradual wage increase starting next year. Health care employers supported the wage proposal when labor groups agreed to a 10-year moratorium on sponsoring local ballot measures that could result in hospitals raising pay — potentially saving employers millions of dollars in political campaigning. For more details, read Ana’s story.

And CalMatters Capitol reporter Alexei Koseff analyzed some of Newsom’s other vetoes and found an intriguing pattern: At the same time he’s calling out Republicans for “rights regression,” he has blocked bills aimed at protecting the rights of marginalized groups. 

Two key examples: Caste discrimination and gender identity affirmation for kids involved in custody disputes. Calling the former “unnecessary,” the governor struck down the bill to include caste to the list of categories in the state’s discrimination laws. A policy director for Hindus for Human Rights, which supported the bill, said Newsom might have worried that passing the bill could jeopardize potential fundraising avenues, since many of the measure’s opponents hold top positions in Silicon Valley.

LGBTQ+ advocates were also disappointed in the governor’s veto of a bill to require judges to consider whether a parent affirms their child’s gender identity in making custody decisions — especially since, as San Francisco mayor in 2004, Newsom propelled himself into the national limelight by issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples. The blowback Newsom received from the veto was so intense that the following day, his office put out a list of signed bills “supporting LGBTQ+ Californians.”

In response, Newsom spokesperson Anthony York told Alexei that the governor blocked the two pieces of legislation out of specific policy concerns, and the vetoes should not be seen as the governor pulling back from his defense of civil rights.

  • York: “You have to take the bills individually. I would argue that California continues to be a leader on protecting and expanding rights.”

To learn more about Newsom’s political maneuverings with the latest round of bill signings, read Alexei’s story.

In all, the governor signed 890 of the 1,046 bills that reached his desk and vetoed 156. That veto rate of 15% is similar to 2022, but higher than in 2021, according to a count kept by longtime lobbyist Chris Micheli

In his final decisions announced Friday, Newsom vetoed only two and signed 100, including some other noteworthy bills:

Education: 

  • Assembly Bill 91 enables low-income students living within 45 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border to be eligible for in-state tuition. Some Republicans argued that the policy “mocks” California taxpayers.
  • AB 659 recommends that K-12 students and college students be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus.

Traffic and roads: 

  • AB 436 bans local prohibitions on cruising. 
  • AB 645 tests speeding cameras in six cities over five years: Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland, Glendale, Long Beach, and the city and county of San Francisco.

Fentanyl:

  • AB 33 establishes a task force to address fentanyl addiction and overdoses, as does SB 19.
  • AB 890 requires those who commit a fentanyl-related crime to complete an education program while on probation.

If you want to catch up on many of the governor’s most significant decisions, we’ve got you covered with our explainer that has been updating for the last month.

2
A standoff in business-labor fight

Fast food workers cheer “¡Si Se Pudo!” or “Yes, We Could!,” before Gov. Gavin Newsom signs legislation supporting the rights of fast food workers and boosting wages to $20 an hour during a press conference at SEIU Local 721 in Los Angeles on Sept. 28, 2023. Photo by Alisha Jucevic for CalMatters

From CalMatters Capitol reporter Alexei Koseff:

A wildly successful legislative session for unions, powered by public interest in widespread strikes during the “hot labor summer,” came to a somewhat disappointing conclusion at the governor’s desk as the bill signing period ended this weekend.

Newsom split the difference on labor priorities, signing some — including bills guaranteeing more paid sick days for workers and allowing legislative staff to unionize — while vetoing perhaps the most significant item on their wish list, which would have allowed striking workers to collect unemployment benefits.

Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, president of the California Labor Federation, said the governor showed strong support for low-income workers, including by raising the minimum wage in the fast food industry and for health care workers. He also signed legislation that could enhance enforcement against labor violations such as wage theft and reduce retaliation against workers who report claims.

But Gonzalez Fletcher lamented that organized labor had struggled to win Newsom’s approval for measures that strengthened unions and allowed middle-class workers to take more power into their own hands. She said the unemployment proposal was essential to put striking workers on more equal footing at the negotiating table so they would not have to take a bad deal out of desperation.

  • Gonzalez Fletcher: “It’s not enough to just raise the lowest wages. We need to let workers be at the center of the discussion of where this economy is headed. Don’t give us charity. Give us power.”

Other painful vetoes included bills to allow public employees not to cross picket lines, to give advance layoff notification to contract workers, to expand transfer rights for employees of chain stores that close, to guarantee severance pay for laid-off grocery workers and to require the presence of human drivers as a backup in autonomous trucks.

Jennifer Barrera, president and chief executive officer of the California Chamber of Commerce, said Newsom provided a balance after the Legislature sided so heavily with union interests this session. More bills on CalChamber’s “job killers” opposition list made it to the governor’s desk than any year since 2010.

Though she rejected the notion that business and labor must automatically be at odds over benefits for workers, she said the costs generally fall on employers, which has to be a serious consideration for the governor, especially given continuing uncertainty over the health of the economy.

  • Barrera: “It is a matter of who’s going to pay for that. Great idea, but why is that on the employer?”

3
CA wins billion-dollar ‘hydrogen hub’

Employees of Sawtooth Caverns walk in front of transmission towers at a power plant in Delta, Utah on June 22, 2022.

Employees of Sawtooth Caverns walk in front of transmission towers at a power plant that will generate hydrogen power in Delta, Utah on June 22, 2022. Photo by Rick Bowmer, AP Photo

California will get as much as $1.2 billion from the feds for a seven-year initiative to produce and use more hydrogen. That’s a big chunk of the $7 billion for seven regional “hydrogen hubs” across America funded by the gigantic 2021 infrastructure package and announced Friday by the White House.

California’s money will go to the public-private Alliance for Renewable Clean Hydrogen Energy Systems, and was sought by the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, the University of California and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and various labor unions. California’s two U.S. senators, Alex Padilla and the late Dianne Feinstein, also lobbied the Energy Department

There are high hopes for the project on three fronts. One is to create jobs (a projected 130,000 for construction and 90,000 permanent). A second is to bring health benefits and lower costs (an estimated $3 billion a year). The governor’s office says 40% of these benefits are supposed to flow to disadvantaged communities.   

And the third is to help the state reach its goal of no net carbon emissions by 2045. By 2030, the alliance’s goals include making hydrogen cheaper than diesel and other traditional fuels and boosting hydrogen use in key industries, including agriculture, aviation, maritime and power. The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles requested $150 million each from the initiative. 

  • Gov. Newsom, in a statement: “Today we are moving from concept to reality — advancing clean, renewable hydrogen in California which is essential to meeting our climate goals…. California’s Hydrogen Hub will cut pollution, power our clean energy economy and create hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs.”

But some environmental justice groups are warning that not enough safeguards are in place to make sure that the hydrogen is not produced with fossil fuels (the state says it won’t) and actually leads to cleaner energy. (Hydrogen can be produced from natural gas, nuclear power, biomass, wind or solar, but is energy intensive.)

  • Bahram Fazeli, research and policy director of Communities for a Better Environment, in a statement: “Production, delivery, storage, and end uses of hydrogen can present more harm to working class communities of color, while potentially setting us on a path to undermine California climate targets.”

With the cash, the hydrogen hub now begins more detailed design and development. 

It’s separate from California’s effort to increase the number of cars and trucks on the road fueled by hydrogen. As CalMatters climate reporter Alejandro Lazo has pointed out, Californians own only about 12,000, or about 1% of 1.1 million zero-emission vehicles. Still, the state is investing $106 million on hydrogen fueling stations through July 2030, about 15% of the money in a state clean transportation program.

And in even more hydrogen news, Caltrans announced Thursday it awarded an $80 million contract for passenger trains, mostly between Merced and Sacramento, the first hydrogen-powered intercity train in North America.  

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