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Former Energy Commissioner Shares Views on the Energy Sector

Interview with Jeff Byron, by Niki Woodard  |  October 20, 2015

What’s on the mind of a former California Energy Commissioner?
Energy, of course. More specifically, Community Choice Energy, accelerating
renewable energy development, energy efficiency, and future clean tech

Jeff Byron served on the California Energy Commission from
2006 to 2011, appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to fill the
public-at-large position on the five-person Commission. He also was Director of Energy at Oracle and served on the board of the Cleantech Open. 

Commissioner Byron recently
joined The Climate Center as an advisor. We are pleased to have
his expertise supporting our mission. Recently, we picked his brain for hot
topics in California’s energy landscape.

Community Choice:

Commissioner Byron is a strong proponent of Community Choice
Energy (i.e. programs like Sonoma Clean Power and Marin Clean Energy). According to Bryon, the significance of the movement revolves around
the notion of choice. “Most people don’t have a choice of who their energy
provider is. You get the monopoly energy company and you pay the rates that are
determined by the Public Utilities Commission. Monopolies aren’t efficient because
they’re not driven by cost control,” he said. With Community Choice, the community
gets to make important decisions about their values, for example, saving money
or reducing greenhouse gases. While he admits that reducing GHGs can’t happen
overnight, he asserts “the movement accelerates under local control. And the
money stays within the community.”

[Editor’s note: Here
in Sonoma County, we’re becoming increasingly aware of the benefits to the
local economy that Community Choice affords. Sonoma Clean Power recently paid Sonoma
Valley Unified School District $30,000 for surplus electricity generated
through their solar arrays.]

Renewable Energy:

When asked to talk about some of the most meaningful changes
in the energy sector, Commissioner Byron spoke enthusiastically about the
significant and rapid reduction in renewable energy costs. “Photovoltaic solar
and wind costs have plummeted. They can really compete on equal footing (with
fossil fuels),” he said. Though coal is cheaper financially, its environmental
cost is significant. He noted “imposing a cost on fossil fuels brings those costs
even closer.”


When looking at the big picture, Commissioner Byron is very
interested in energy efficiency. “We can have the same amenities we do now, and
use less energy.” As the clean technology sector grows, he looks forward to the
increasing efficiency of our appliances and modern luxuries. After all, he
reminds us, “The energy you don’t use is the most efficient.”

LED lighting is a prime example of one of those innovative efficiency
technologies. “If we replaced everything with LEDs, we’d save around 20% in GHG
emissions in the electricity sector,” he said.


“EVs are part of the big transformation required to reduce GHGs,”
said Commissioner Byron. He noted that infrastructure changes take a lot of
time and money. “We’re not investing enough in EV charging yet,” he said.  


Commissioner Byron underscores the need to accelerate
investment in clean technology solutions. Efforts like Cleantech Open, an
organization that finds and funds cleantech start-up businesses, are key to
that transformation. “While most investments in clean tech are in incremental improvements
in technologies that can contribute to lower cost, reduced emissions, and
increased customer satisfaction, what we are really looking for are those
breakthrough technologies. There will be breakthroughs we can’t
fathom yet.” He likens those breakthroughs to our quick
and complete dependence on wireless, internet-connected phones.  “Who could have foreseen that transformation
only a few years ago?” he asks.   

About the Energy Commission:

The California Energy Commission was established in 1974 as
the state’s primary energy policy and planning agency. In Bryon’s words, the

  • Creates standards in efficiency and appliances,
    “saving California consumers billions of dollars in the past 30+ years”
  • Develops annual energy policy recommendations
    for the state
  • Presides over the sitings of all thermal power
    plants in California
  • Runs a $100 million public interest research
    program for energy efficiency and climate change solutions

Commissioner Byron proudly served as the Energy
Commission for five years, pushing us toward a low-carbon future.

Previously, he was Director of Energy at Oracle and also served on the board of the Cleantech Open. Currently,
the Commissioner is “back in school” at his alma mater, Stanford University. He
is one of 25 fellows in the Distinguished Career Institute, continuing to
advance his role in making social impact.

Niki Woodard is the Communications & Marketing Director for The Climate Center. You can reach her at niki@theclimatecenter.org.