California Assembly Passes 100% Renewables Mandate

Lawmakers in California’s Assembly on August 28 cleared a key vote on a bill that would require the state to obtain 100% of all retail electricity sales from renewable and zero-emissions resources by 2045. 

The state’s Assembly voted 43–32 in favor of SB 100. The bill, which now heads to the state Senate for a vote, will also require electric utilities and other service providers to generate 60% of their power from renewables by 2030—up from the current 50% goal set for that date. 

The Senate has until Friday, when the legislative session ends, to vote on the bill. If Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs the bill, California—the nation’s most populous state and the world’s fifth largest economy—would become the nation’s second state to mandate 100% clean energy by 2045. 

Ramping Up Renewables

Hawaii implemented a similar plan in June 2015, though experts noted that California’s measure is broader, because it allows the use of “zero-carbon” sources—which are not defined in the law—after 2030, if the 60% target is met. A point of contention during the debate was whether to allow large hydropower plants of above 30 MW to count after the 60% target is reached. Provisions ultimately adopted for the utilization of zero-carbon electricity could include large hydropower plants and gas-fired plants that use carbon capture. That’s important because it allows California “to sustain a diversified fleet and maintain a reliable system more easily,” Sarah Kozal, an attorney at Stoel Rives in Sacramento, told POWER on August 29. 

Established under SB 1078 in 2002, California’s renewables portfolio standard (RPS) is one of the most ambitious in the country. It currently requires investor-owned utilities (IOUs), publicly owned utilities, electric service providers, and community choice aggregators to increase procurement from eligible renewable energy resources to 50% of total procurement by 2030. According to the California Public Utilities Commission, the state’s three large IOUs—Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E)—collectively served 34.76% of their 2016 retail electricity sales with renewable power.

However, according to the Los Angeles Times, Brown has not taken a public position on SB 100. The newspaper reported on Wednesday that state Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), the bill’s author, said he has not received a commitment from the governor that he will sign the bill. 

The bill, which was introduced in 2017, was shelved last year. SB 100 was opposed by some IOUs, but it has the backing of prominent renewables groups like the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). That group said in a statement on August 29 that the Assembly vote was a “great legislative victory.” 

Solar Group: More Legislation Needed to Make 100% RPS a ‘Practical Reality’

Yet, SEIA noted that to make it “a practical reality,” California must also pass AB 893, which would require utilities and community choice aggregators to procure 4.25 GW of qualified renewable energy resources, including at least 2.5 GW of solar and wind. The state would also need the legislature to advance AB 813, a bill that would authorize California utilities to be part of the California Independent System Operator’s (CAISO’s) efforts to create a regional electricity market that includes California and neighboring states. 

“Setting a 100% RPS target by 2045 would set California on par with Hawaii for the most aggressive RPS in the U.S., however, opponents worry about the increasing costs and reliability issues,” Kozal said. “Proponents, on the other hand, believe this will send strong signals to the market to encourage investment and innovation, ultimately bringing prices down.” 

Tuesday’s vote comes on the heels of “California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment,” a state report that compiles climate research, including 44 technical reports and 13 summary reports on climate change impacts. It suggests that California, which has grappled with destructive wildfires and heat waves, faces worsening events linked to global warming. 

Among its key findings is that two-thirds of Southern California’s beaches could completely disappear and the average area burned by wildfires could nearly double by 2100. It also warns that higher temperatures will increase annual electricity demand for homes, and that heat-related illnesses and deaths could worsen drastically throughout the state. If global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are reduced substantially from the current business-as-usual trajectory, the economic impacts could be greatly reduced, it concludes. 

A Boost for Energy Storage

On August 29, the state’s Assembly also passed SB 700, a bill that would extend the state’s Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) through 2026. According to the California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA), the measure will support installation of nearly 3 GW of behind-the-meter storage, which is needed to support high penetrations of wind and solar.

“We are making the sun shine at night!” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, CALSSA executive director. “SB 700 will do for storage what SB 1 did for solar over a decade ago, namely create a mainstream market by driving up demand and driving down costs all while creating jobs and clean energy choices for consumers.” SB 700 now heads to the Senate for concurrence. CALSSA expects it will be put on the governor’s desk for a signature sometime in September.

On Wednesday, the California Energy Commission said that as of early August, California’s three largest IOUs had procured or were seeking approval to procure almost 1,500 MW in energy storage related to AB 2514—a law that mandates IOUs must get more than 1,300 MW by 2020. Of this total, 332 MW is online, according to the commissions’ latest tracking progress report. The state’s publicly owned utilities have, meanwhile, installed 59 MW of energy storage through 2017 and plan to procure an additional 224 MW by 2021.

—Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine)