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Electricity from Large Dams Does NOT Count as Renewable Energy

Summary:
Anna Caballero, a Democratic state senator from a district near me in California, had a proposal that I actually agreed with. She wanted the term “renewable energy” in California law to refer to–hold on to your hat–renewable energy. Specifically, she wanted to allow two utilities, in the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, to be able to categorize as renewable energy electricity that turbines at the Don Pedro Reservoir generated. Certainly such energy sounds renewable. But her measure failed to get enough support in the California Senate. Why did the categorization matter? Because of a law that former Governor Jerry Brown signed last year that requires utilities in California to, by 2030, produce 60 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. Did

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Electricity from Large Dams Does NOT Count as Renewable Energy

Anna Caballero, a Democratic state senator from a district near me in California, had a proposal that I actually agreed with. She wanted the term “renewable energy” in California law to refer to–hold on to your hat–renewable energy.

Specifically, she wanted to allow two utilities, in the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, to be able to categorize as renewable energy electricity that turbines at the Don Pedro Reservoir generated. Certainly such energy sounds renewable. But her measure failed to get enough support in the California Senate.

Why did the categorization matter? Because of a law that former Governor Jerry Brown signed last year that requires utilities in California to, by 2030, produce 60 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.

Did the opponents argue that hydroelectric energy is not renewable energy? No. Politics in California is sometimes crazy but no opponent I know of argued that a particular form of renewable energy is not renewable energy.

So what did the opponents argue? Here’s what Paul Rogers of the Bay Area News Group reported:

The bill drew stiff opposition from environmental and health groups, from the Sierra Club to the American Lung Association. They argued that if Don Pedro’s electricity was counted as renewable, then the owners of dozens of other large dams would want the same treatment. That would mean that demand for solar and wind power could falter.

In other words, these interest groups have decided that the way to meet the renewable energy goal is to have more solar and wind power even if hydroelectric power is cheaper. They are set on their solution. Notice that that means that they don’t really want renewable energy. They want solar and wind.

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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