By Aaron Beaudette 9/26/12
The second day of REFF-West began with an impassioned call for California’s renewable energy community to engage with all Californians and build a popular movement that will benefit everyone. Senator Kevin de León, speaking before a room of renewable energy financiers and developers, retraced the history of the recently passed Prop 39, and how the groundswell of support from minority communities was a signature achievement of Prop 39’s passing.
The victory at the ballot box, Senator de León stated, was a victory for the vision of energy efficiency and renewable energy as a powerful jobs creator. Prop 39 closed a corporate tax loophole where multistate corporations could choose a taxation method most advantageous for them. Approximately half of the new revenue is dedicated to energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
By focusing on jobs and schools, the Prop 39 initiative overcame a high historical hurdle. “In the past 22 years, [California] has only passed three revenue enhancements at the ballot box,” Senator de León stated. The success was even more impressive considering who voted for the proposition. A coalition led by Latino voters and supported by “Asian-Americans, African-Americans, and Whites” propelled Prop 39 to become the largest voter getter at the ballot box in the last 22 years. Sixty-one percent of voters supported Prop 39.
The lesson, Senator de León reiterated throughout his keynote, is that when renewable energy is made relevant to people’s day-to-day lives it has immense support. School energy cost savings that can be reinvested into the classroom “are tangible, are things people can identify with… and this is directly correlated to the space of renewable energy.” The $2.5 billion that Prop 39 makes available for school retrofits, Senator de León emphasized, should be used as a trampoline to channel Californians’ enthusiasm into future initiative after results are seen in communities across the entire state.
Senator de León also touched on California’s role as a renewable energy leader. California’s leadership position, he said, should not be defined relative to other states who are rushing to follow California’s lead. Rather, California “should have higher standards in this space… it is why we need to really lead, really charge ahead.”
Lessons from other states, however, are important indicators of where California can innovate. During the question and answer period, Senator de León was pushed to consider the recent green bank announcements in Connecticut and New York as important models California could replicate. New York’s newly designated energy czar, Richard Kaufman, was also discussed. Senator de León acknowledged the oftentimes incoherent strategic initiatives within California, and saw promise in discussing such a role with his Sacramento colleagues.
Senator de León closed his keynote with a return to his vision of renewable energy as a jobs creator. “I cannot stress enough how critical it really is to recalibrate, to reframe, to rebrand the issue of renewable energy and energy efficiency as it relates to job creation.”
Aaron Beaudette is a first-year MBA candidate at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. Prior to Haas, Aaron worked in Washington, DC with the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy implementing innovative energy policies with state and local governments.