A new study questions the wisdom of California energy policies aimed at fighting climate change, concluding that their economic toll has been steep despite achieving unimpressive greenhouse-gas reductions.
Produced by a free-market think tank and funded in part by a pro-energy-industry nonprofit, the report suggests the Golden State might be better off making greater use of natural gas and nuclear power to generate electricity rather than promoting renewable power in all cases.
The findings are likely to resonate in Kern County, where some of the environmental policies targeted in the study have been unpopular with some local oil industry leaders.
One of the study’s key findings is an estimate that consumers in the state would save more than $2,000 per year on average if California’s clean-energy mandates were eliminated.
Making estimates based on federal data, author Wayne Winegarden also found the rest of the country did significantly better than California — 14 percent versus 9 percent, respectively — at cutting carbon dioxide emissions between 2007 and 2017.
He wrote that, during about the same period, California made less progress in lowering the carbon intensity of its fuel than the country as a whole — a 3.8-percent reduction versus 9.7 percent, respectively — even if you exclude Northeastern states where a regional cap-and-trade program has easily outpaced California’s progress.
Winegarden said Thursday electricity and fuel costs elevated by state’s energy policies will go back down again if certain mandates are removed.
He specifically mentioned California’s cap-and-trade program, which forces emitters to buy clean-air credits; a requirement that investor-owned utilities source much of their electricity from renewable sources; and net metering, which requires utilities to buy excess power generated by rooftop solar panels.
“The opportunity is eliminating the policies,” he said last week. “Any loosening will help to realize at least some portion of these savings.”
An environmental justice group active locally said the report overlooks negative health impacts associated with traditional energy production. Besides fighting climate change, regulating greenhouse-gas emissions reduces pollution harmful to human health, according to the executive director of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment.
“The study fails to account for the economic costs of pollution which falls on the public, particularly low-income communities and communities of color, who pay for it in terms of health costs, lost school days and premature death,” Caroline Farrell wrote in an email.
Monica Embrey, associate director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said by email that Californians need clean air and water, not handouts to the fossil fuel industry.
“Slashing environmental protections would only serve to make oil executives richer while our families pay the price with our health and safety,” she wrote.
She added that if oil industry-fueled economic growth has declined in Kern County, “it has nothing to do with environmental regulation and everything to do with international oil politics, the pandemic and the decline of easy-to-extract oil.”
The California Energy Commission, an arm of state government that helps carry out Sacramento’s policy goals, declined to comment on the study.
The report was produced by San Francisco-based think tank Pacific Research Institute and funded in part by Power the Future, a nonprofit active in Alaska, California, Colorado and New Mexico.