Governor signs bill aimed at Merced Irrigation District

10/03/2013 5:56 PM

10/03/2013 5:57 PM

Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday signed legislation aimed directly at preventing a significant rate hike for Merced Irrigation District electric customers.

The new law, Senate Bill 591, was co-written by Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, and passed both houses of the state Legislature in August.

In a statement released late Thursday, MID General Manager John Sweigard praised both Merced County legislators and the governor’s office.

“This bill represents a significant step in the District’s ongoing efforts to minimize fees to our ratepayers as we come into compliance with the state’s mandatory green-energy purchase requirements,” Sweigard said in the news release.

Under the new law, the district will be allowed to count a portion of the hydroelectricity it generates at New Exchequer Dam at Lake McClure toward its renewable energy requirement. Typically, water-generated power is not considered a renewable energy source under state law.

The new law applies only to the Merced Irrigation District.

The Utility Reform Network, California Wind Energy Association, Large-Scale Solar Association and Sierra Club of California all opposed the bill, according to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office.

A phone call to the Utility Reform Network was not returned Thursday.

In a statement to the Legislature over the summer, the network said it opposes the “special treatment” the Merced district would receive and said all utilities should be required to “contribute equally to meeting California’s renewable energy goals.”

Irrigation district officials responded that district ratepayers are in a “special situation” because of the energy generated at the New Exchequer Dam.

Without the legislation, district utility customers may have seen their bills go up next year if the district was forced to purchase other power from state-approved sources.

“Certainly the intent of the bill is to decrease the amount of fees that could have gone up to comply with the state mandate,” said Mike Jensen, a district spokesman.

Potential savings for customers will depend on the amount of water stored each year at Lake McClure, officials said.

Following the announcement Thursday from the governor’s office, Cannella and Gray issued a joint statement calling the new law an “important bill for the ratepayers of the Merced Irrigation District.”

Similar proposals earlier this year all died in committees. Legislative officials said those proposals were too broad because they included other districts in similar situations. Officials said the law passed Tuesday received greater support because it impacts the Merced district exclusively.

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