Politics

California lawmaker backs off regional energy grid plan

Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, watches as the votes are posted for a measure at the Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. Saying they needed more discussion, Holden withdrew two bills he was sponsoring that would have paved the for merging California's energy ride with others in the West. He hopes to revisit the proposal next year.
Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, watches as the votes are posted for a measure at the Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. Saying they needed more discussion, Holden withdrew two bills he was sponsoring that would have paved the for merging California's energy ride with others in the West. He hopes to revisit the proposal next year.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

A proposal to merge California's energy grid with others in the West will not advance this year, after the lawmaker sponsoring it said Wednesday it requires more discussion.

Two bills by Democratic Assemblyman Chris Holden would have allowed the California Independent System Operator to eventually merge with other grid managers.

Some environmental groups said a regionalization plan would make it more convenient and cheaper to integrate renewable energy sources like wind and solar, which are highly reliant on weather.

But critics say a regional grid would open California's market to coal and natural gas power generated in other states. They cheered Holden's decision to pause the bill, with the executive director of the Utility Reform Network calling it one of the "most bungled attempts at energy policy in recent memory."

"Now is not the time for California to give up control over our energy future, but rather to assert it," Mark Toney said.

Holden halted his bills after determining more discussion is needed on legislative oversight of such a change. He said he hopes to revisit the proposal next year.

Although California has debated grid regionalization plans for years, Holden's proposal was introduced late last week, angering some critics who felt it was snuck in at the last moment. Gov. Jerry Brown has offered support for a regionalization plan, and a Cal-ISO spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times such a proposal would improvement management of electricity resources. Cal-ISO operates long-distance power transmission lines for about 75 percent of California power customers.

Senate and Assembly lawmakers, meanwhile, acted on dozens of pieces of legislation as the session speeds toward its close for the year. Action also taken Wednesday includes:

—Passing legislation to protect college students from immigration authorities. The bill heading to Brown says immigration agents must show a valid warrant to gain access to community college or California State University campuses. It's part of the state's effort to protect roughly 200,000 young immigrants in California who are protected from deportation under a federal program being halted by the Trump administration.

—Approving a plan to let taxpayers to make a voluntary tax contribution to help the state reduce its backlog of untested rape kits.

—Sending Brown a bill to free more elderly inmates. Federal judges in 2014 ordered California to consider releasing inmates 60 or older who have served at least 25 years in prison. The bill locks that court order into law. Death row, no parole inmates, police killers and third-strike career criminals are excluded.

—Passing legislation to add new restrictions on California drivers under age 21. A bill headed to Brown would require anyone under 21 to have a provisional license starting in 2020, compared to age 18 in current law. Provisional driver's licenses restrict when someone can drive and who they can have in the car, with exceptions for driving to school and work.