CALIFORNIA (KTXL) — Gov. Gavin Newsom sat down with FOX40 News to discuss a number of issues the state is facing, including wildfires, recent energy struggles and legislation that is sitting on his desk.
Newsom laid out why he thinks the state will be able to handle a ban on the sale of gas-powered cars, how he thinks the 2022 fire season is going, and what he thought of President Joe Biden’s support for a bill Newsom has signaled his opposition to in its current form.
Although California has seen a lower total amount of acres burned this year than in previous years, the governor emphasized that his administration continues to build up the state’s firefighting crews and equipment, with the use of new technology and new fire mitigation processes.
New firefighting planes
Newsom touted advances in technology that are allowing fire crews to battle flames in ways they were not able to previously.
“This was the aircraft that did the first night drop in California history,” Newsom said. “We’re the only state that has aircraft like this that allows us to do nighttime suppression. This was an investment we made to get rid of the 1970s Vietnam-era “Huey” aircraft and then provide these Blackhawks, which allow us more fire suppression and night goggles that allow us 24-hour capacity, so this is a game changer in terms of the fleet.”
2022 Fire Season so far
The governor described the overall message he’s gotten from CAL FIRE about how this fire season is turning compared to last year.
“Good news,” Newsom said. “It doesn’t feel like it with all of the smoke around. We are now experiencing substantially lower fire activity compared with the average over the last five years. Let me be specific: about 325,000 acres statewide have burned year-to-date. A little over 6,100 fires. This time last year, it was 2.5 million acres.”
Despite that optimism, the governor recognized that the work wasn’t over yet.
“We recognize we have more to do, but I got to just level set with folks: never in our state’s history — and we’re talking by a factor of ten, not marginal improvements — have we put more resources in a resourceful mindset in terms of vegetation and forest management, peak staffing and prepositioning teams,” Newsom said.
Fuel reduction efforts
Newsom highlighted the increased budget his administration committed to fuel reduction efforts in contrast to previous amounts the state spent.
“We’re taking a $2.8 billion budget over a two-year period,” Newsom said. “When I got here, it was $200 million. I’ll repeat that because it really deserves repeating. $30 million a year prior to me getting here, $2.8 billion for next year’s budget that we just approved for active resiliency management.”
The governor also responded to critics who said that, despite the state being more than 100,000 acres ahead of schedule in fuel reduction, the administration was not being ambitious enough.
“We can do more and we will do more because we have to do more in order to address the climate as we experience the extremes, just like this recent heat wave.”
The state recently went through a record heat wave that stressed the state’s electricity grid operators over several consecutive days, leading to questions about whether the state’s expansion of renewable energy can withstand a similar weather event, and if the state should further reduce its reliance on nuclear power.
Unprecedented power challenges
The governor discussed the power challenges the state faced during the heat wave.
“Our previous record for Flex Alerts was 4 consecutive days,” the governor said. “This was 10 days, we went to almost 52,000 megawatts, which was unprecedented in California’s history. You got to throw out all of the old books in terms of expectations and reliability strategies. Mother nature has leaped far ahead of our capacity to deliver.”
Then he laid out the steps his administration has taken to prevent future disasters.
“We’re changing that capacity with unprecedented resources and permitting,” Newsom said. “We packaged not just all of our stress, but our agenda in an unprecedented legislative package that will keep Diablo Canyon open as baseload and allow us to fast-track the permitting for all of the large-scale green energy we have in the past for billions of dollars — $53.9 billion for a climate package for clean energy. And so we are in a place where we’ve never been in the past, strategy with a focus, intentionality and resources to move forward so we don’t have this experience again.”
Diablo Canyon’s impact during the heat wave
Newsom said that if Diablo Canyon had been closed the state would not have been able to meet energy demands during the string of Flex Alert days in September.
“It’s about 9% of the base load of electricity, there’s no doubt we would have blown past,” Newsom said. “We would have absolutely triggered into load reduction, otherwise referred to as blackouts, if we didn’t have Diablo (Canyon).”
State officials asked electric vehicle drivers to not charge their cars during peak hours during the heat wave. Newsom said that investments in the state’s power infrastructure would allow it to keep up with the growing energy demands that will come as the state transitions to 100% electric vehicle sales.
“0.4% is the current utilization of electricity during the peak hours for electric vehicles,” the governor said. “By 2035, we will have a decade and a half to continue to build out this historic investment to continue to build out in batteries, in the grid, in renewables, and it will get up to just 4%.”
Newsom painted the expansion of the use of electric vehicles as an economic opportunity for California.
“The future is going to happen to us or for us,” he said. “I want it to happen for us. I want us to dominate this industry, to lead the world in exports, in innovation, to dominate in that entrepreneurial spirit that comes with this transition.”
During the conversation, Gov. Newsom emphasized that the state’s reliance on renewable energy presents an opportunity for workers in traditional energy sectors to transition to new employment opportunities in energy. He also commented on the recent involvement of President Biden in the conversation about farmworker laborer rights in California.
Oil industry employees
Newsom offered assurance to workers in the oil industry that there will be work for them as the state moves away from fossil fuels.
“We’re going to keep them employed,” Newsom said. “Capping, making sure that we’re addressing the maintenance on these rigs. We’ve put hundreds of millions of dollars in the budget to secure that transition so it’s not rhetorical. No one’s naive of doing their part during the transition that we’re not leaving people behind.”
Newsom dismissed the support that President Joe Biden voiced for AB 2183 last week after the governor’s office in a statement criticized the bill as approved by the legislature last month.
“President Biden weighs in on a lot of issues,” the governor said. “We’ve had a chance to dialogue on a lot of issues. That bill is on my desk with a few hundred others. Gov. Brown took a look at it and made a decision as I did last year. We offered many amendments to UFW. I hope they’ll take a look at those amendments.”