Clean Energy Investors, Google Fight Prop. 23

The battle for the future of California’s landmark climate legislation, AB32, is heating up, with clean energy investors and venture capital stepping in to combat this November’s Proposition 23 ballot initiative.

Proposition 23, whose primary backers include oil companies Valero and Tesoro (and now, the Adam Smith Foundation of Jefferson City, MO,) aims to “suspend” AB32 by making enaction contingent on a sustained and unrealistic 5.5% unemployment rate in California. Currently the rate is somewhere north of 12%.

There’s big money behind the effort to derail California’s climate bill, and a lot of it comes from out of state.   But now there’s big money on the other side too, and big names…and they are from California.

Tom Steyer, founder of San Francisco-based hedge fund Farallon Capital Management LLC, has given $2.5 million to support a No on 23 marketing campaign, and promised another $2.5 million to come.   “Proposition 23 is designed to derail a green technology revolution that we are in the early innings of and that is the engine for California’s growth,” Steyer said in an interview.  Steyer and his wife donated about $40 million to fund renewable energy research at Stanford University last year.

Internet giant Google, a strong supporter of renewable energy generation, especially wind power, recently co-hosted a forum with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group to discuss the future of clean energy in California.   Speakers came out strongly in favor of AB32 and against Proposition 23, saying the future of green jobs and investments in California’s struggling economy are at stake.

  • “We’re strongly behind the No on 23 campaign,” Bill Weihl, Google’s “green energy czar” (Winner: coolest job title ever).
  • Carl Gardino, Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s CEO: “If we don’t go forward with 33 percent renewable standard for California’s energy supply, we undercut all those companies and entrepreneurs creating jobs in solar, wind, biofuels and other renewable forms of energy.” Guardino’s organization represents more than 300 California companies that oppose Proposition 23.
  • Venture capitalist, Vinod Khosla:  “Prop 23 will kill the market and the single largest source of job creation in California in the last two years.”  Khosla’s company, Khosla Ventures, put together more than $1 billion for renewable energy and clean tech investments last fall.

And Proposition 23 isn’t the only front in the battle over AB32 this fall.  While Democratic candidate Jerry Brown has embraced the clean energy sector, making support of AB32 a cornerstone of his campaign, republican Meg Whitman has pledged to suspend AB32 for at least one year, pending federal action.

Now that both sides of Proposition 23 have strong financial backing, the playing field has leveled out.   There will be a big, expensive fight for our votes this Fall, with the outcome no less than the future of California’s green economy.

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Dan Heffernan lives and works in San Francisco and is a renowned political news junkie. Check out his heavily biased political blog www.HeffBombs.com.

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