Now I know what you’re thinking: doesn’t California Governor Jerry Brown deserve a coveted Power Line Green Weenie lifetime achievement award for some of the things he did 35 years ago, when he was governor first time around? Goes without saying. It was back during Brown’s “Moonbeam” years that California embarked on its dirigisme energy policy, with some of the first major subsidies for wind and solar power that gave the nation its first major wind farms at Tehachapi and Altamont Passes, both of which produce about the same amount of electricity as a coal fired power plant, but take up 100 times the land area, not to mention more steel, etc.
Right now Brown is a champion of California’s recent mandate for the state to generate one-third its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2020. California has been nudging the energy market since back in the 1970s, and, like the Soviet economy in the mid-20th century, these efforts have been judged to be a great success. Starting under Brown in the mid-1970s, California embraced a “negawatt” strategy of encouraging energy conservation (typically called “demand-side management,” or DSM) rather than siting new power sources, emphasizing more efficient appliance and building standards along with renewable energy from wind and solar power. (Oh yeah: those rolling blackouts back around 2000? Those were Enron’s fault. Rinse and repeat.)
On the surface the result looks impressive on the surface: since 1970, while national per capital electricity consumption has risen by about one-third, per capita electricity consumption in California has remained flat. Today the average Californian uses 40 percent less electricity than the national average. Thus, even though California’s household electricity rates are about one third higher than the national average (15 cents per Kwh in California versus 10 cents for the nation, according to recent Energy Information Administration figures), California consumers don’t have to spend appreciably more than citizens of other states. No harm, no foul.
Problem is, there’s a whole stack of studies from researchers at Stanford, UC Berkeley, and elsewhere that conclude California’s energy profile has much more to do with its milder climate and its shrinking industrial base than deliberate policy. Just about every energy intensive industry, such as aerospace, that once called California home has left. The economists who’ve looked at the matter closely found that only about 20 percent of the difference in California’s energy use can be attributed to policy. One study out of Berkeley actually found that the various energy efficiency mandates probably increase energy consumption in new construction—a phenomenon well known in the energy efficiency trade as the “rebound effect.”
All of this is preface for Jerry Brown’s latest act of prestidigitation involving California’s attempt to solve global warming in one state: California’s cap and trade policy. California adopted its own cap and trade policy a few years ago, with the revenues supposedly dedicated to green energy and other environmental projects. Guess what mom? Jerry Brown decided to raid the first $500 million in permit auction fees to help pay for welfare benefits in the state’s general fund. The Wall Street Journal is all over this story today, with a warning for the nation as a whole:
California expects to generate $500 million this year from auctioning off permits to emit carbon, and between $2 billion and $14 billion annually by 2015. This rich new vein of revenues was supposed to flow to green programs (e.g., solar subsidies), but Governor Jerry Brown cut a deal with Democrats in the legislature to seize this year’s proceeds to finance more generous welfare and Medicaid benefits. Environmentalists are suddenly stunned to discover that they’re not exempt from Sacramento’s generally accepted accounting principle of raiding internal accounts to backfill the budget. . .
California Democrats are proving that the real point of cap and trade is to give politicians another revenue stream for income redistribution while dodging accountability for raising taxes. That’s worth keeping in mind when liberals resurrect the scheme for the entire U.S.
By the way, while we’re on the subject of Jerry Brown, note above his official portrait, which appears on the third floor of the state capitol in Sacramento. I’ve often wondered how long it might take someone to notice if you stuck a piece of chewing gum on it. In any case, Brown’s office won’t yet say whether he’ll have a second official portrait done for his non-consecutive governorship, but if he does, I suggest one modeled after this, which seems more appropriate for California’s long suffering citizens.
UPDATE: Actually, if we just tweak his existing portrait just a little, we’re more than halfway to Munch-land (either that or we’ve made him a space alien):