After passing a major Committee vote last week, a bill that would allow critical facilities such as water pumps and fire stations to operate emergency backup generators during power outages will face a divisive Senate Appropriations Committee in the next few weeks.
Widespread blackouts in 2019 spurs the creation of SB 1099
Senate Bill 1099, written by Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa), would require air districts across the state to allow critical facilities with a permitted backup generator to use it specifically during power outages and planned power outages. Air District issuance and renewal fees for generator permits would no longer be issued to encourage facilities to keep generators and expand, or make it easier for facilities with no backup generator to get one. Generators would also get an extended amount of use time by having all testing time not count toward the generators overall usage time, allowing facilities to keep generators for a longer time.
Senator Dodd wrote the bill in response to PG&E performing several planned power outages last year across California, catching many critical and emergency facilities off guard. While the majority of locations did have an emergency backup generator of some kind, many others did not. With cell towers down, some water plants idle, and emergency services stretched thin, the lack of backup generators added to the suffering of the millions affected statewide.
Cell towers in particular were targeted as a critical need last year when the power outages turned them off, with hospitals, fire stations and water treatment plants being identified in SB 1099 as other needs not already 100% covered by generators or whose generators could not be used during the PG&E blackouts due to testing limits.
SB 1099 support and opposition
“With wildfire season approaching and the possibility of even more power shutoffs, it is absolutely imperative that we keep essential facilities functioning,” said Senator Dodd in a statement. “This bill is a commonsense step that ensures the public is served and protected at the most critical time.”
Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), a co-author of SB 1099, agreed with Senator Dodd. “We need to protect hospitals and their patients during PSPS events by not penalizing them for running backup generators,” added Senator Glazer last week. “Power is life and while these events are not declared emergencies, they have the same impact. This bill clarifies the rules that allows lifesaving power to flow.”
While SB 1099 was expected to get full support, opposition from Republicans had mounted in the last several months. During last Thursday’s Senate Environmental Quality Committee hearing, the bill was only approved 4 to 1 with 2 abstentions. Concern over the bills language, the need to take away fees, confusion over allowing facilities to have generators despite already having generators, and other issues have come up since the bills introduction in February.
“It’s a rather obvious bill,” noted environmental attorney Jack Schroeder. “But the question may become ‘Do we really need such an obvious bill’? It’s a good idea, but mostly everyone already has a generator in place for emergencies and uses it during a blackout.”
“We’ll see this month.”
While it passed last Thursday in Committee, SB 1099 will now have to face a more scrutable Senate Appropriations Committee in the next few weeks. While expected to be passed again, more questions over SB 1099 are expected to be raised.