The Bay Area Council on Friday, June 15 submitted the following letter urging Gov. Brown and state legislative leaders to take immediate action on comprehensive reforms that can provide for a secure energy future for California’s businesses, consumers and the economy.

Dear Governor Brown and Legislative Leaders,

The Bay Area Council urges you to take immediate legislative action to preserve healthy, reliable, and safe public and investor-owned utilities so they can continue to power our economic success story, create new jobs and invest in the delivery of clean renewable energy. We have already witnessed the negative economic effects of delayed action in the face of a changing climate, extreme weather events and the resulting wildfires. Not since the rolling blackouts of 2000/2001 have we experienced such a dire threat to our utilities and as a result the economic well-being of our region and our state.

The Bay Area Council and our member companies depend on a reliable and secure energy supply. This can only be guaranteed if the infrastructure that generates and moves that energy is resilient enough to withstand the “new normal” of extreme weather and a changing landscape that you identified in your joint statement earlier this year. We applaud your vision and leadership and support solutions that address the principles you established:

Modernize vegetation and forest management practices for fire prevention and carbon sequestration.

With increased suburban and exurban development in close proximity to fire-prone landscapes across our region and state, we support the updating of vegetation and forest management practices. We must implement these new practices as quickly as possible to decrease the risk of disasters like the 2017 North Bay fires.

Ensure utility and public infrastructure is designed, constructed and operated to maximize resiliency to extreme weather events and natural disasters.

We know that without a modern and resilient grid California cannot maintain a healthy growing economy or meet any of our climate objectives. We support establishing the necessary standards and oversight measures to keep our grid strong in the face of extreme weather so it can continue to power what is now the 5th largest economy in the world.

Enhance the emergency response system, including consideration of mutual aid resources, telecommunications, 911 systems, and community needs, particularly in low income and vulnerable rural and urban communities.

Knowing that the community they belong to is safe, and has safe reliable power, is a basic need for any company seeking to grow and create new jobs.  We support increased investments in first response infrastructure to meet the demands of what has become a year-round fire season.  As I write this letter 11 named fires are burning in California from Shasta Trinity to San Diego.

Examine the availability of insurance products in high wildfire areas in light of increased risks from climate change.

As high wildfire areas continue to expand, and more people choose to live in those areas, insurance options are becoming increasingly limited for many consumers. We support your work to find solutions that help increase access to affordable insurance.

Update utility rules and regulations for utility services in light of changing climate and the increased severity and frequency of weather events.

The current rules under which our utilities operate were crafted at a time when man-made climate change was a topic discussed in theoretical terms, and its projected impacts were educated guesswork. Today we are living with those impacts and witnessing them every day, from the millions of dead trees across our state to the extreme fluctuations in our rainfall and the emergence of 70 mph-plus Santa Ana-type winds in Northern California.  If our utilities are to continue to modernize their clean energy generation and transmission capacity and if California is to continue to lead the world in this effort, we must recognize the “new normal” around us and have an honest conversation about liability reform and shared risk across all stakeholders.

The Bay Area has just 20 percent of California’s population but we provide 40 percent of the personal income taxes paid to the state. Without the economic success of our region, California cannot succeed, and without a safe and reliable source of energy delivered by our utilities, our businesses cannot succeed. Absent the reforms described above, particularly liability reform and reform of the perverse doctrine of inverse condemnation that makes our utilities liable for fire damages even if they have followed all the rules to the letter of the law, nobody will be able to generate and supply power in California let alone invest in upgrading to a cleaner, lower carbon grid.

We urge immediate action and comprehensive reforms otherwise we risk an existential threat to our economy and our state.

Sincerely,

Jim Wunderman

President & CEO

Bay Area Council

 

CC:

Senate Minority Leader Patricia Bates

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Dahle

Senator Ben Hueso, Chair, Senate Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications

Assemblymember Chris Holden, Chair, Utilities and Energy Committee