By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
However vexing California’s current energy crisis may seem, it would be immeasurably worse but for the governorship of Jerry Brown. During his two terms as governor (1975--83), Brown initiated what were then viewed as radical innovations in energy policy, shifting state priorities away from nuclear energy toward environment-friendly sources and an emphasis on conservation. Two decades later, California remains one of the most energy-efficient states in the nation. Brown is currently mayor of Oakland, where he is developing a municipal energy policy for the current crunch, and watching the administration of Gray Davis, his onetime chief of staff, attempt to craft a policy for the state. Brown spoke with correspondent Bill Bradley about the opportunities and pitfalls that California faced a quarter-century ago -- and that it faces again today.
L.A. WEEKLY: When you became governor in 1975, the growth rate in electric-power demand in California was around 7 percent. You decided that level of consumption and waste really wasn‘t necessary. What steps did you take and why?
JERRY BROWN: It wasn’t just me. It was a confluence of events and people; I tried to play the role of a catalyst. It was an earlier time of energy crisis; the economy had slowed down. There was a new California Energy Commission built into the process. Its job was to look at the overall. The Public Utilities Commission took the more traditional approach. There was my energy adviser, the late Wilson Clark, a brilliant man. There was Sim van der Ryn, whom I made state architect and head of a new Office of Appropriate Technology.
I had Amory Lovins debate Herman Kahn in the Governor‘s Office. Lovins said the 7 percent growth rate was wrong. We set out to prove him right. We felt we could get it down around 2 percent, even with a growing population. And we did, pushing energy efficiency, giving tax credits for solar and conservation, stimulating new industries like wind power.
You spoke then of an “Era of Limits.”
In 1976, when I ran in the late presidential primaries. We seem to be running up against some limits again.
So it appears.
With the efficiency emphasis and putting renewables into the mix that we started, California is the fourth lowest per capita user of energy of all the states. It could be much worse.
How many nuclear-power plants did the utilities want to build in California?
There were a lot of crazy numbers flying around. [California Attorney General and 1978 Republican gubernatorial candidate] Evelle Younger was close to the industry. He and Edward Teller ran around together in 1978 saying we needed 40 nuclear plants.
Imagine all the “stranded costs” for the utilities that would have come from that.
It would have dwarfed the bailout of 1996. It could have been hundreds of billions. When I was governor, the president of one of the utilities told me -- after a fund-raising dinner and drinks -- that he hoped his company’s nuclear-power plant wouldn‘t go critical on his watch. He laughed, and I shivered.
Your energy strategy was derided by some as “wood chips and windmills.”
It was. But now that approach provides 20 percent of our power. The “wood chips” business, that came from the Diamond Walnut project, burning walnut shells to boil water and make electricity. There are a lot of ways to do that. Burning “wood chips,” natural gas, cogeneration, geothermal, methane, oil, firing off nuclear reactions, which is kind of overkill if you think about it.
Windmills: When I left office, California was the world leader in wind energy. We produced 92 percent of it. Since then, California has stalled out. Germany has taken the lead, with three times as much wind power now. With natural gas where it is, wind power is very attractive. And we can bring fuel cells and photovoltaics into the mix. We can use the Internet to bring in real-time pricing and resume the march to more efficiency.
You said a while ago of the deregulation scheme, “If it ain’t broke, don‘t fix it.”
They came up with a Rube Goldberg scheme. The spot market has been a disaster.
Now in Oakland you’re taking some immediate steps.
Sixty percent of city facilities are already pretty energy-efficient. We‘re going to retrofit lighting, improve heating and power distribution systems in city buildings, and modify ventilation fans at the city jail. We’re cutting off decorative lights and fountains. We‘re looking for green power sources, and we may put solar panels on the roofs of some city facilities.
Are you thinking of setting up a city utility in Oakland?
That’s very expensive.
You did mention something about a power plant around the time of your State of the City address.
We might do that. But I want to see how things play out at the state level. That‘s where we can turn this problem into a great opportunity.
How do you feel your former chief of staff, Gray Davis, is doing?
He’s in a difficult spot. He was slow off the mark, but he‘s very intelligent and capable. This thing hit a lot of people by surprise.