Jewish Journal

California’s New Energy Chief

by Melissa Minkin

Posted on May. 10, 2001 at 8:00 pm

S. David Freeman, standing, addresses members of the American Jewish Committee as Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, director of the AJC's Western region, listens.

S. David Freeman, standing, addresses members of the American Jewish Committee as Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, director of the AJC's Western region, listens.

The day after Vice President Dick Cheney said the best way to meet the country's energy demands was to increase fossil fuel production, reconsider nuclear power, and soften environmental laws, S. David Freeman went to Sacramento to prove him wrong.

Freeman, who left the top post at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) to become California's chief energy adviser, began work last week with a mandate to address the state's energy crisis "without plunder[ing] the earth to stay cool in the summer."

After serving as top energy aid to four U.S. presidents and running five of the country's biggest public power agencies, Freeman looks like the state's best chance to balance Californians' appetite for both electricity and environmental protection.

Known as much for his wisecracking irreverence as his white cowboy hat -- he says he wears black when he's feeling depressed -- Simon David Freeman is the oldest son of Lithuanian immigrants. He grew up speaking Yiddish in a small Orthodox community in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"The only people who discriminated against me were my parents. They made me go to cheder and wouldn't let me date non-Jewish girls. There was no anti-Semitism from people in Chattanooga," he said, adding that although he didn't attend her class, the woman who taught Christian Bible study in his public school even attended his bar mitzvah.

Freeman said his father, who owned an umbrella-repair shop, taught him that "Judaism did not mean going to the synagogue; it was the way you lived your life." That meant two things: enjoying life and standing for something.

Today, with no hint of a Yiddish accent in his Tennessee twang, Freeman says he follows those precepts. "I spent my life advocating conservation and cleaner energy sources, and spent most of my years on the side of the consumer."

According to Freeman, there are two separate but related aspects to the energy crisis: a very real shortage (due to the lack of electricity we typically get from Canada and the Pacific Northwest in the summer), and the resulting "who's robbing whom?" drama of deregulation. Tied to this, he believes, is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's refusal to cap the prices of not only electricity, but the natural gas -- supplied primarily by Texas -- that fuels California's electricity-making power plants. The way out, he says, is conservation (see sidebar), building more efficient, greener power plants, and considering new fuel sources.

Freeman says people who think domestic drilling will solve the problem "are living in a dream world. The answer to that oil gap is more efficient automobiles. Nobody can look at the array of automobiles that are being driven today and not recognize that we're just asking for it. We went from 11 miles to the gallon to 20-something, and we cut down on imports. Now we've gotten these SUVs, and we are energy gluttons."

In terms of electricity, customers of Los Angeles' DWP may not be in danger of rolling blackouts -- in large part due to Freeman -- but, he says, every kilowatt-hour saved in Los Angeles can be sold to help the rest of the state. "We have earthquakes here, and we expect other people to help us," he said. "The state of California is having an electrical earthquake of enormous proportion, and this cavalier attitude of 'We're L.A., and the hell with the rest of the state' has got to stop."

Instead, Los Angeles should continue the DWP's improved environmental sensitivity and lead the way to alternative power sources. He says it will be critical to watch who fills his shoes at DWP under Mayor Riordan and the city's next leader.

At 75, Freeman is facing no personal energy crisis. "I love what I'm doing, so why the heck would I quit? My mother lived to be 90, and my dad lived to be 85. I don't know how long I'll live, but I'm not any good when I don't do anything," he said.

Besides, with a bill before the state Legislature to create the first statewide power authority in decades, Freeman is expected to get the top post -- and the chance to set California's energy agenda for years to come.

"If conservation can carry the day, and we can get through the summer with just a few rolling blackouts, we will have shown that you can have a more conservation-oriented energy policy and you don't need to drill in Alaska, or off the coast of Florida, or off the coast of California. And you don't need to go back to nuclear power," he said during a visit with board members of the American Jewish Committee, one of his last stops before leaving for Sacramento.

"But if we fail, and if California is just a serious mess of continuous blackouts, or we go broke buying the stuff, I think it will feed into the hands of the people who say, 'Why worry about being 60 percent dependent on imported oil?' and 'So what if we're getting our oil from Iraq and Saudi Arabia and Iran?'" he said, noting that California's energy woes are especially important to people concerned about Israel.

Freeman and Cheney do agree that all eyes are watching California. "Without a clear, coherent energy strategy, all Americans could one day go through what Californians are experiencing now, or worse," Cheney said last week at the annual meeting of the Associated Press of Toronto, according to the New York Times.

Arguing that we need to increase the supply of fossil fuels rather than limit demand, Cheney dismissed the notion that "we could simply conserve or ration our way out" of an energy crisis and advocated drilling in protected lands and rolling back environmental rules regarding the burning of coal and the construction of new pipelines and refineries. The vice president, who ran the oil-services company Halliburton Inc. before last year's election, is heading President Bush's energy task force.

"You tell the children that they are burning up the remains of the dinosaurs, and they will tell you to stop," Freeman told the AJC group. "All I ask you to do is to listen to your children. And recognize that we are very likely to go down in history as a generation that burned up the treasures of Mother Nature that it took hundreds of millions of years to make, and in the process put ourselves completely at the mercy of some despots and some governments that wish us no good."


There are many more steps you can take to conserve power and reduce your energy bill. Check out these resources for details:

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's environmental Web site (www.greenla.com): Click on "cash for conservation" for tips and incentives (like $4 for each 50 kWh that you save over last year's amount), or call the hotline 800-GREEN LA (800- 473-3652).

Southern California Edison (www.sce.com). Click on "Save Energy and Money" and check out the Governor's 20/20 program for 20 percent rebates for residents who reduce their energy consumption by 20 percent.

Alliance to Save Energy (www.ase.org). Click on the "consumer" button for tips and tools. A free booklet, "Power $mart," is available on the Web site or by calling toll-free 1-888/878-3256.

Syndicated columnist James Dulley (www.dulley.com) offers hundreds of home improvement tips to "save money in an Earth-friendly manner." The Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (www.cleanpower.org or (916) 442-7785) also offers tips and information.

S.David Freeman will speak at Jewish Vocational Service's Strictly Business Luncheon May 16, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at Beverly Hilton Hotel. Call (323) 761-8888 ext. 8895 for tickets ($75) and information.

Fine, I'll Sit in the Dark

Conserving energy "doesn't mean freezing in the dark," according to S. David Freeman, California's new chief energy adviser. It means being more mindful of our energy choices. Here are some easy energy-saving tips.

Lights -- Turn them off when you're not in the room. Replace old bulbs with compact fluorescents that fit regular fixtures, last up to 10 years, and use a quarter of the electricity of your old ones. Lights create heat and make air conditioning work harder, so for rooms with windows, Freeman advocates turning off lights during the day and using natural light instead.

Air conditioning -- Freeman says set the thermostat to his age (75), leave it off when you're not home, and clean the filters to maximize efficiency.

Appliances -- Vacuum your refrigerator coils twice a year to improve efficiency; wash full loads in your washing machine and dishwasher, and try to run appliances during off-peak hours. Installing more energy-efficient models can also help. Look for the Energy Star seal of approval (for energy efficiency) or the Green-e logo (for renewable electricity).

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