Google rallies opposition to Calif. energy measure

A ballot measure to suspend a California emission-reduction law until unemployment improves is decried by Google, which thinks that could derail clean-tech investment.

Khosla Ventures' Vinod Khosla (left) and Google's Bill Weihl discuss their opposition to California Proposition 23 during an event at Google's headquarters Tuesday.
Khosla Ventures' Vinod Khosla (left) and Google's Bill Weihl discuss their opposition to California Proposition 23 during an event at Google's headquarters Tuesday. Tom Krazit/CNET

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--Google hosted a packed house of clean-tech industry fans Tuesday morning at the Googleplex in what amounted to a pep rally against a California ballot proposition that would suspend a law on emissions.

In the time-honored California tradition of stuffing electoral ballots with as many controversial issues as possible, this November voters will be asked to consider Proposition 23 (click for PDF), which if approved would block a previously passed law--AB32--regulating emissions in California until unemployment levels drop below 5.5 percent for a full year. AB32 essentially requires that California emission levels match the levels specified by the Kyoto Protocol--1990 levels--by 2020, and it's set to begin taking effect in 2012.

Those who support the proposition--including oil companies such as Tesoro and Valero--argue that imposing emission restrictions at this time amid high unemployment rates in California and a precarious economy would hurt job growth. But Google and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group threw their support behind those opposing the proposition Thursday, inviting a panel that consisted of Google's Bill Weihl, the company's "green energy czar;" Khosla Ventures leader Vinod Khosla; Mary Nichols of the California Air Resources Board; and Tom Bottorff, senior vice president for regulatory relations at PG&E.

If breakthroughs are ever to be made in developing new clean sources of energy, markets are going to have to be established so businesses have an incentive to deliver those breakthroughs, Khosla said. He argued AB32 did just that in requiring businesses to cut emissions, and if there's no market for clean technologies, no progress will be made.

"(Proposition 23) will kill the markets and the single largest source of job growth over the last several years," Khosla said. Weihl echoed those comments, saying that 500,000 clean-tech or green-tech jobs had been created in California during a period in which many state industries lost jobs amid the recession.

"Rolling (AB32) back would get rid of the certainty that investors rely on," Weihl said, implying that private funding for clean-energy technology would either dry up or move overseas if there was no market for such technologies. PG&E's Bottorff confirmed that a separate law requiring California utilities to obtain 20 percent of their energy from renewable resources helped spur investment in clean technologies at the utility over the past few years, although PG&E will fall just short of that 20 percent goal by the December deadline.

Google has thrown its considerable weight behind clean-energy issues several times over the past few years. Google is a massive energy consumer with data centers all over the globe, but it has worked to reduce energy consumption in those facilities to what Weihl claimed was half the amount consumed if companies follow industry standard practices. It also introduced a Web-based power meter that homeowners can install to monitor their own energy consumption.

About the author

    Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.

     

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