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Lawmaker: 'No California Future' for LNG, Nukes

March 31, 2008
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California cannot afford the high costs and risks of added nuclear electric generation plants or a first-ever liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal along its coast, according to the chair of the state Assembly's Utilities and Commerce Committee Lloyd Levine. In addition, Levine doesn't seen any significant state energy legislation being passed this year.

Recent statements by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger favoring new nuclear development prompted Democrat Levine to write an opinion column the was published Wednesday in his district in the Ventura Star-News. A day earlier the Los Angeles Times had editorialized against reconsidering nuclear power generation in response to Schwarzenegger's comments.

In his opinion column, Levine stressed that he thinks nuclear power "has many of the same negatives" as a coastal LNG facility, such as one proposed off the coast of Ventura County in Southern California. "Both are expensive, dangerous and would divert funds from the development of cleaner alternatives such as geothermal, solar and wind power."

California's legislature this year is unlikely to stay busy digesting major new laws passed since the 2000-2001 wholesale energy market crisis, Levine said. More stability and refinement of the measures passed recently is needed, he said during an interview with NGI last Wednesday.

In the last five or six years, Levine thinks there have been a number of "really significant" pieces of legislation on energy policy -- "not tinkering at the margins, but significant policy." Some of it has come directly from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the rest from the legislature, he said.

Levine said he is not planning to pursue any new state legislation regarding nuclear power plant development, which is banned in the state by a 32-year-old law, but he did want "to get on the record" his strong opposition and his feeling that nuclear is not "carbon-free" and there are much better, cheaper, easier to implement alternatives among renewables and expanded energy efficiency programs.

"When anyone with credibility -- whether it is the governor or someone else -- starts talking about the possibility of nuclear energy coming to California in a widespread way, it is my job as chair of the Assembly energy committee and as someone who is personally opposed to offer a counter viewpoint and try to stem the tide before it is too late," said Levine, although he noted there is no groundswell in the legislature to revisit the issue. Nevertheless, two bills have been proposed this year, and one came up last year.

As it stands, Levine acknowledged there are currently "significant impediments" in California to new nuclear power. The emphasis on global climate change and mitigating against greenhouse gas emissions has caused more people to look at nuclear again, said Levine, who thinks people generally have "forgotten the facts" of why the state and nation turned against new nuclear development.

"This is not necessarily a carbon-free source of energy; it just means that in the generation of electricity it may be carbon-free," said Levine, citing uranium mining, production of concrete and other materials, transportation of materials, and the construction process itself as all causing a lot of carbon to be emitted.

"The refining of uranium that is used in a reactor is a hugely carbon-intensive process," he said. "The [carbon emission] payback time for a nuclear plant extends way beyond a decade. So for a number of reasons I don't think it is the right way to go for California."

Last year Levine opposed the offshore LNG terminal project by BHP Billiton that was ultimately turned down by state officials, including the governor. "I strongly opposed the LNG plant, and I will strongly oppose the governor's nuclear endorsement," he said.

Levine thinks all of the climate change, energy efficiency, renewable energy and resource acquisition laws are still being absorbed. "When you combine all of it together it is a pretty solid package," the lawmaker said. "Part of what is needed is to let these things work; I don't think we need action for the sake of action."

He is satisfied that there now exists a "great platform" on which California's energy policy can move forward. If adjustments are necessary, then legislation can be proposed as Levine has done in the energy efficiency area with his current bill (AB 811) dealing with local public financing for energy-saving programs.

"I don't think we're going to see any really significant energy policy come out of the legislature this year," Levine. said. "I don't see a need out there that needs to be addressed; others may disagree, but I don't. We need to sit and let these policies take hold, such as let the solar initiative [calling for the development of 3,000 MW of rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems over the next 10 years] unfold and the energy companies work with the energy commission to implement energy efficiency on a wide scale."

He is against injecting more "uncertainty and trauma" by changing the rules of the game. With that said, Levine does have one issue lingering since the energy crisis seven years ago that he intends to try to address smart metering. He thinks the nexus for the next policy shift in the state is going to center on time-of-use metering for small energy utility customers.

"People need to be able to pay the true cost of energy and base their decisions on their energy use on the cost of that energy at any given time," he said. This means the state legislature would have to reform the limits of one of the prime crisis mitigation bills from 2001 (AB1X) that freezes retail power rates up to 130% of baseline.

AB1X also includes the freeze on new retail direct access or competitive choice, but Levine specifically said he has no intention of changing that. "The reopening the issue of retail competition injects the exact opposite of what I want to do; I want to inject stability. Going to direct access we would inject turmoil, and that is 100% counter of what we want."

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