A few months ago I mentioned signing up for TerraPass, a voluntary mechanism for offsetting automobile greenhouse gas emissions by funding projects to reduce emissions in other sectors. Now it appears that TerraPass, or more specifically their blog, may have helped defeat a ballot initiative in California. Proposition 80 would have re-regulated the market in such a way as to restrict customer choice in electric providers. Having grown up in California, and considering the market mayhem that occurred there in 2001-2, I'm somewhat surprised that this initiative didn't win, let alone that it went down to resounding defeat, by a margin of 66% against 34%. It's just possible that bloggers played a role in that defeat, as TerraPass suggests.
Why would TerraPass care about the structure of California's utility market, and why, for that matter, should anyone else? It comes down to promoting innovation and the ability of alternative energy, including "green" alternative energy, to compete in the market on an equal footing with traditional energy suppliers. If you block their access to the market--in this case to retail electricity customers--alternative energy firms won't be able to demonstrate the kind of value that attracts investors. No investors, no alternative energy. Furthermore, stifling these activities in California, where many of them have been incubated in the past, could have consequences far beyond the state's borders.
This is crucial for TerraPass and anyone else who cares about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, because alternative energy projects, including wind and solar power, are a major source of the emissions offsets on which TerraPass's business is based. They are also an important, though at this point small, source of greenhouse-gas-free energy for the economy as a whole.
I think there are a couple of takeaways from this event. First, having a market that's open to innovation appeals to a broad range of constituencies. It appears that California's voters didn't buy into the victimization model that's been foisted on them by folks peddling highly distorted versions of the lessons from the California Energy Crisis. Perhaps they understand better than their state's lawmakers that it was a poorly-designed, badly-executed deregulation that caused the problem, rather than deregulation, per se. Secondly, the non-traditional voices that are having a greater impact on politics in general turn out to be influential on energy policy issues, too. That's good news for those of use blogging away in the energy space, trying to cut through a mass of confusion and partisan propaganda.