Wieckowski's bill to transition to a green grid by phasing out dirty power plants advances in Assembly

June 27, 2018

SACRAMENTO – The Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee approved a bill by Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) today to study how to reduce the worst-polluting fossil fuel plants that are negatively impacting the air quality of disadvantaged communities. SB 64, supported by a number of environmental justice organizations, now advances to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“Fossil fuel plants are cycled to back up renewable energy, and as they start and cycle they can emit up to 38 times as much pollution as when a unit is operating at a steady state,” said Wieckowski, chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. “SB 64 will allow us to analyze the potential air impacts of our changing electric grid and if we fail to do so, our air quality in communities throughout the state could get worse even as we strive to meet our greenhouse gas and renewable requirements.”

It also requires local air districts to set limits on cycling when reviewing or revising plant permits. On bad air days, when conditions are expected to exceed state or federal air quality standards, the bill requires local districts to limit the plants’ operations, if doing so would not affect the grid’s reliability.

The bill requires air districts to determine the actual emissions of power plants due to cycling and takes the first step in starting to consider those impacts by requiring more publicly accessible data to track the changing profile of the grid.

“As we transition off of natural gas in California, we must protect the communities directly impacted by poor air quality that comes from the current natural gas power plants,” said Diana Vasquez, policy manager of the California Environmental Justice Alliance.  “The state needs accessible information to understand how natural gas plant operations are impacting local air quality.  SB 64 will ensure air quality in environmental justice communities does not get worse by requiring data and transparency on this increase in cycling when reviewing natural gas power plant permits.  We look forward to working with Senator Wieckowski to ensure additional data and transparency about how power plants are operating in California and affecting our most vulnerable communities.”

The operation of a single power plant can significantly impact ambient air. In its analysis for the Pio Pico facility in unincorporated San Diego, the California Energy Commission (CEC) found that emissions from the facility could nearly double the one-hour concentration of nitrogen oxide from background levels. The CEC also found the Pio Pico facility in would contribute to the area’s nonattainment of federal air quality standards for fine and coarse particulate matter.

In addition to CEJA, SB 64 is supported by East Bay Clean Energy, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Coalition for Clean Air, Clean Power Campaign, Community for a Better Environment, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club and several other environmental groups.