Newly elected local California State Sen. Tony Strickland’s environmental credentials are being put to the test this month as his alternative energy legislation begins to wind its way through the corridors of the state capitol.
Strickland, a Republican who ran on a platform of increased renewable energy and lower taxes, has already taken flak for ignoring — or voting against — environmental measures. Now, a few months into his term, parts of Strickland’s new alternative energy legislation have cleared their first hurdle, and received approval from the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee last Monday.
The legislation, Senate Bills 463 and 542, is part of a larger environmental package moving through the State Senate that expands the scope of state sponsored energy efficiency programs and offers significant tax incentives to individuals and businesses transitioning to renewable sources of energy.
This recent success may help Strickland combat the criticism he has received from environmental groups worried that he will not fulfill campaign promises. However, Tam Hunt, the Energy Program director and attorney at the Community Environmental Council, said that Strickland could still be doing much more.
“I definitely appreciate the fact that Strickland is following through with his campaign rhetoric and I certainly agree with him that we need some more tax incentives,” Hunt said. “But I also think he can do a lot more. For example, he missed a key vote on the renewable portfolio standard. … This bill would increase [the amount of electricity that must come from renewable sources] from 20 to 33 percent by 2020. It’s been attempted three years in a row, and it has failed three times.”
Strickland, who beat out Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson by only about 900 votes last November, defended his record, as both a State Senator and State Assemblyman before that.
“I have always fought for energy solutions for California,” Strickland said in an e-mail. “I sued Governor Gray Davis over the long term power contracts during the energy crisis (and won). … I also believe it is important to offer incentives [as opposed to] punishment if we are going to be successful in transitioning California into a more renewable energy-efficient economy.”
Strickland’s Senate Bill 463, dubbed Renewable Energy Projects, would entitle a person to a one-time tax credit upward of $3,000 for the purchase and installation of a renewable energy resource project. Strickland’s other piece of legislation, Senate Bill 542, was co-authored by Democratic State Sen. Pat Wiggins of Santa Rosa and would add apartments, duplexes and commercial rental properties into the California Solar Initiative and other energy efficiency programs to encourage the use of renewable energy.
Having made it through the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee, Strickland’s SB 463 will now go to the Committee on Revenue and Taxation, while SB 542 will go on to appropriations committee. The remainder of the package is scheduled to be heard on the Senate floor this week.
While the tangible effects of this legislation have not yet been fully realized, many have predicted that the tax incentives will create an influx of new renewable energy technologies into the market.
Some environmentalists are excited about this potential flood of new technology, but many also remain wary of its impacts on local animal habitats.
“Most environmental groups that we’ve been talking with support switching to alternative forms of energy production,” Linda Krop, chief council for the Environmental Defense Center and UCSB Environmental Studies Dept. professor, said. “The concern is with some of these new industrial sources, [we must] make sure they’re cited correctly, so that if there is a problem, corrective action can be taken.”
Lawmakers also predict that these tax incentives will create new job opportunities in the labor-intensive alternative energies field. It is hoped that these jobs will both help stimulate the floundering state economy and reduce California’s dependence on foreign oil.
“The only way out of our budget is to create jobs,” Strickland said. “My renewable energy legislation would lead to job creation for Santa Barbara County. … I am working to transition California to a renewable, more energy-efficient economy to create jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, improve the environment and lower energy prices.”