Renewable advocates can be excused for wondering about Wright. In addition to single-handedly blocking the Sher bill last year, he began a March meeting with advocates ”by trashing renewables,“ in the words of one advocate. But after a break, one source said that Wright changed tack: ”He asked, ‘How do we get to 20 percent?’“
”He‘s hard to pin down,“ commented a longtime Wright observer in the Legislature. ”He can really go off on tangents.“
In his lengthy conversation with the Weekly, Wright was knowledgeable and thoughtful, and more than willing to argue several sides of the same issue. ”People probably told you I’m crazy,“ he remarked. More like quicksilver. But for the record, does he favor the 20 percent renewable standard as the goal, while also requiring the utilities to purchase more renewables every year to reach that goal? ”Right,“ he declared. ”Yes.“
Wright now says that the state can do better than the 20 percent standard. He even became excited about the prospect of California leading the way on renewable energy. ”When, after a couple of years, people realize that the prices ain‘t gonna blow them out of the water, I think we’ll end up with more . . . This is the opportunity to demonstrate that it can work.“
Wright no longer holds with the argument of some utility lobbyists that renewable power only makes sense if it costs the same or less than other sources of power. ”That‘s nonsense,“ responded Wright, who said that the lobbyists were overlooking the big picture. ”We have to compare renewable prices with the total cost of the comparable 10-year natural-gas contract, which includes the capital, the plant, the fuel, everything.“
Wright will be term-limited out of the Assembly this year. He has sought an appointment, apparently unsuccessfully, from President George W. Bush to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. While open to other jobs, he says he is running for the Los Angeles City Council seat held by Nate Holden, who also is leaving office because of term limits. A renewable-energy bill would bring him a better legacy to Los Angeles, especially given his reputation as a tool of special interests, including the National Rifle Association. A veteran lobbyist called Wright ”the NRA’s go-to guy in the Assembly.“
”It‘s all the money I’ve raised,“ said Wright, with the air of a wounded, misunderstood statesman. He‘s still fuming about the criticism over the Morton’s fund-raiser. ”I scheduled that months before the hearing. It was an emergency hearing,“ he said, his voice rising. ”I already had the fucking money.“
So why has he raised so much money from the industry? Wright is very candid. ”In our system, if you chair the committee, the idea is that, whatever the damn committee is, it‘s that you chair committees because you can help your caucus [party] stay in power. That’s our system.“
As far as energy goes, ”The biggest problem is to make sure we don‘t get burned again. We’ve done some dumb shit on energy.“ He now supports moving sharply away from the wild energy market that nearly sank California last year, saying that 95 percent of the state‘s power should be under contract. ”We have to decide how much risk we’re prepared to assume and how much certainty we‘re prepared to pay for. We went under before because we assumed too much risk.“ Prices can be lower at times with a free market, he noted, but can also be disastrously higher.
All told, Mr. Wright is sounding more right on and less right-wing, which could bode well for the renewable-energy bill.