California Governor Wants to Raise State’s RPS Target to 50%

With California already on track to meet its goal of getting 33% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, Gov. Jerry Brown announced on Jan. 5 that he would seek to raise the renewables portfolio standard (RPS) target to 50% by 2030.

In his inaugural speech opening his fourth term (he previously served from 1974 to 1982 before being reelected in 2010), Brown laid out an aggressive plan to maintain the state’s lead in shifting to a carbon-free economy.

“Taking significant amounts of carbon out of our economy without harming its vibrancy is exactly the sort of challenge at which California excels,” Brown said. “This is exciting, it is bold and it is absolutely necessary if we are to have any chance of stopping potentially catastrophic changes to our climate system.”

Brown’s plan rolls together a variety of green initiatives: more distributed energy, more battery storage, more smart grids, more electric vehicles, and more energy efficiency—doubling the efficiency of existing buildings. Brown also wants to cut the state’s oil usage in the transportation sector 50% by 2030.

Brown readily acknowledged the challenges in such a goal. “How we achieve these goals, and at what pace, will take great thought and imagination mixed with pragmatic caution. It will require enormous innovation, research and investment. And we will need active collaboration at every stage with our scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, businesses and officials at all levels,” he said.

Politically, at least, the challenges may be limited, because Democrats control both houses of the state legislature by large margins. Brown has had little trouble getting his agenda passed into law thus far.

What the effects on the state’s economy might be, however, are not clear. California already pays some of the highest electricity rates in the country, though total electric bills are actually below average because of the success of prior energy efficiency measures. AB32, the state’s much-heralded cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions, has so far not been the economic disaster its critics predicted it would be. Brown asserted, “We are well on our way to meeting our AB 32 goal of reducing carbon pollution and limiting the emissions of heat-trapping gases to 431 million tons by 2020.”

One sector sure to benefit from the new target is the state’s booming rooftop solar industry. California in 2014 installed more solar photovoltaic capacity than any other state by far, and in the third quarter installed almost as much as the rest of the country combined, according to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research.

 —Thomas W. Overton, JD, POWER associate editor