By Matthew Allen, Vice President, State Government Affairs
There is simply no industry that brings a value like agriculture to the daily lives of human beings. Farmworkers and growers work together to plant, harvest and distribute an unbelievable variety of sustenance for our state, nation and world. We go to the grocery store, shop online and open our refrigerators, largely taking for granted that what we want to eat will be there.
For those suffering hardship, local non-profits and food banks work in partnership with agricultural producers to help ensure that those who are less fortunate are receiving a variety of nutritious food. All of this is accomplished with attention to food safety, employee health and well-being, environmental stewardship and compliance with national, state and local regulations. Let’s also not forget that growers do this in the face of something that is outside of their control: the weather.
As growers work diligently to rebuild and re-tune their operations due to the nationwide closures of businesses and schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the West is in the midst of a record drought. The lack of ample water storage has led to severe cutbacks in water deliveries to growers and recouping that loss from groundwater is quickly becoming a less feasible option. Growers have responded to this drought crisis by disking already planted crops back into the soil as well as fallowing ground. The drought has softened the much-anticipated ag recovery from COVID-19.
Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story. The lack of rainfall and lackluster snowpack has also impacted energy generation in California. Hydropower generation in the Golden State has been decreasing because a specific amount of water is needed in reservoirs to turn the massive turbines that generate electricity for our grid. If the reservoir levels fall too low, the turbines must be turned off. That happened recently at the Edward Hyatt Powerplant at Lake Oroville. That plant is no longer delivering needed power to what is already an unstable and unreliable electric grid, due to aging utility infrastructure and wildfires.
Energy in California is becoming a precious commodity. Food processing facilities already face some of the highest electric rates in the nation. Less stable energy generation is putting additional upward pressure on commercial/industrial rate increases. A reliable and efficient grid is also a necessary building block for the state’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality. California has designated an all-electric vehicle transportation network as a significant portion of the strategy to get to a carbon neutral economy. This is not just passenger vehicles but trucks and off-road equipment as well.
How will farmers grow, harvest, pack and ship their products if the equipment that they rely upon is not able to be charged due to a public safety power shutoff, infrastructure loss due to wildfire, or loss of natural gas-powered backup generation that would normally be brought online in times of low energy generation? This is an all-important question especially for fresh produce. These products need to be harvested and processed in a timely manner to maintain freshness and avoid spoilage. It’s not clear that California policymakers and regulators are thinking about these and other potential unintended consequences of an unreliable power grid.
California’s drought conditions are clearly exacerbating existing policy challenges. WG will continue to be a leading voice in calling out these concerns and finding pathways forward to ensure the sustainability of our industry.