Raised eyebrow

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by Amanda Witherell

The best part of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's speech today in front of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce came after the closing remarks when everyone was leaving and the guy sitting next to me said, "Did he even say anything about energy?" Good question, given that we were seated in the inner sanctum of PG&E's 77 Beale Street corporate headquarters. Why are we here?

"They've been a great partner to our administration," said Schwarzenegger, when he thanked the utility company for the digs, which were pretty bland considering some of the other Chamber of Commerce members probably could have proffered something flashier.

Ah, yes. The partnerships -- that's what they like to call it in PRC terms (not "politically correct," but "public relations correct,") which is something the guv thinks he excels at. "I've been very well-trained because I sleep with a Democrat," he joked after his introduction from Willie Brown, which lauded his ability to chum around with the Dems.

The guv did mention AB 32 somewhere near the beginning of his talk, but the bulk of California's greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, not energy utility companies, and despite the goal of 25 percent less emissions by 2020 he still wants to build more roads and is dragging out the state's high-speed rail project until....you guessed it, a private/public partnership can be established to secure the funding.

Speaking of transportation, the guv was an hour late because there was too much air traffic around San Francisco and even though he's the governor and all, he doesn't get to stop all the planes every time he wants to jet out of Sacramento. Anyway, his tardiness was pretty sweet for me because while we're all just sitting there I got to chatting with the guy next to me who happens to work in PG&E's renewable energy department. We talked about all sorts of fun stuff like tidal power and solar thermal which he said PG&E's pretty stoked on. Problems abound of course, with regards to the intermittent nature of alternative energies (sun shines during the day, wind blows during the night) but when I asked him if he thought it was unreasonable to consider a completely renewable future, he seemed to think the biggest hurdle was cost. We agreed that people seem to be hip to paying more for something that, in the long run, saves and since utility companies in California are regulated it shouldn't be a disincentive to invest in more costly ways of producing energy, especially when those costs are dropping all the time. (For example, over the last 20 years, the cost of producing wind energy has decreased 90 percent.)

So how deep is PG&E willing to dig into their pockets and ours to bring us clean energy? The gent asked what the Guardian thought about the utility's recent efforts. "You could characterize it with a raised eyebrow," I said.