Legal & Regulatory

California Mandates 100% Renewable Energy

California Gov. Jerry Brown on September 10 signed into law a measure requiring the state to produce all its electricity from renewable sources by 2045. It’s a goal that also has been set by Hawaii and is being discussed by other states.

Environmental groups and renewable energy advocates immediately praised Brown’s action. Utilities operating in the state, including Southern California Edison (SoCal Edison) and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), said they are concerned the law will result in higher electricity prices for ratepayers.

“If it’s not affordable, it’s not sustainable,” PG&E said in a statement. “We believe customers must be protected from unreasonable rate and bill impacts.”

California is the largest state by population with about 40 million residents—comprising about 12% of the U.S. population—and is by itself the world’s fifth-largest economy. It has long been one of the most progressive states in addressing issues about the environment and climate, and it has some of the nation’s strictest environmental regulations. Monday’s signing comes as San Francisco this week hosts the Global Climate Action Summit, a gathering of scientists, government officials, celebrities and others from around the world. The meeting is being led by Brown and officials from the United Nations, with a goal of securing commitments from businesses and governments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The new law is designed to move California fully away from power generation from fossil fuels, mostly natural gas and coal, which today represent about half of the state’s electricity production. Renewables comprise about 32% of current generation, according to the California Energy Commission.

In addition to its 2045 goal, the new law requires the state to produce 50% of its power from renewable energy by 2026, and 60% by 2030.

‘Will Not Be Easy [But] it Must Be Done’

Brown, a Democrat who has been governor since 2011 and previously was the state’s governor from 1975-1983, signed SB 100 Monday at the state Capitol in Sacramento. He said meeting the goals outlined in the new law “will not be easy. It will not be immediate. But it must be done.”

A number of businesses, including San Francisco-based Levi Strauss and Gap Inc., along with the Silicon Valley Leadership Council, and health groups including the American Lung Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, supported the measure. PG&E and SoCal Edison, along with the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Farm Bureau Federation, and the Western States Petroleum Association, opposed the bill.

The Clean Air Task Force, a Boston, Massachusetts-based energy policy shop, said the state would need to install more than 200 times as much energy-storage capacity than it has currently to make up for the loss of gas-fired generation.

Supporters noted Brown and other state officials in part framed the bill as a rebuke to President Trump and his administration’s effort to diminish U.S. environmental standards, including Trump’s move to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accords and replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan with a rule that would give states the power to determine emissions standards for power plants, in what is seen as an effort to prop up the coal industry.

State Sen. Kevin De León, a Democrat from Los Angeles who sponsored the bill, said during the signing ceremony, “Today California sends an unmistakeable message to the nation and the world. Regardless of who occupies the White House, California will always lead on climate change.”

Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, in a statement said, “A child born this week in California can count on reaching adulthood in a state free of smokestacks to create electricity. I feel so proud to be a Californian right now. And I feel so proud of people all over America who have kept fighting to clean up climate pollution, despite the federal government’s abandonment. This win, this bill, is for them, too.”

“California just signed one of the world’s most ambitious clean energy bills into law,” said Abigail Dillen, the incoming president of the environmental law group Earthjustice. “While the Trump administration is pushing the agenda of big polluters, California is proving that it’s possible to power major economies entirely with clean energy. California’s bold move, following Hawaii’s historic commitment in 2015, demonstrates that states are charging ahead to get off fossil fuels and build a clean energy future.”

The state earlier this year mandated the use of solar rooftop panels on almost all new home construction.

Brown said the bill “is sending a message to California and the world that we are going to meet the Paris agreement and we are going to continue down that path to transition our economy.” Brown this past weekend signed a pair of bills to block new oil and gas extraction in California’s coastal waters, in contrast to the Trump administration’s move to open areas off the nation’s coastlines to energy exploration.

In a statement discussing the weekend signing, Brown said: “Today, California’s message to the Trump administration is simple: Not here, not now. We will not let the federal government pillage public lands and destroy our treasured coast.”

PG&E Increasing Generation from Renewables

Though PG&E opposed the new law, the utility has touted its efforts to increase its power generation from renewable energy. The company said one-third of its generation came from renewable sources in 2017. In February, PG&E said almost 80% of its “total electric power mix is from GHG-free sources including nuclear, large hydro and renewable sources of energy. It’s the highest percentage of clean energy deliveries in PG&E’s history.”

PG&E earlier this year also said it is ahead of schedule to reach California’s 2030 goal of 50% renewables for utilities and a separate company goal of 55% renewables by 2031.

SoCal Edison also has touted its renewable energy efforts, including a hybrid battery storage system.

Opponents of the legislation said the transportation sector is responsible for most of California’s GHG emissions. They said that 41% of the state’s GHG emissions come from vehicles using gasoline and diesel fuel, far above the 16% of GHG emissions from the state’s power plants.

SB 100 last month passed in the state Assembly and the state Senate with unanimous Democratic support. The only Republican in either body to vote yes was Assemblywoman Catharine Baker of San Ramon. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican and outspoken critic of Trump, wrote a letter of support for the bill in the week prior to the vote.

“California must take a stand and tell the world we are, as always, undeterred by those who wish to stop our progress and move backwards. We continue to move forward, and passing SB 100 is one of the boldest moves we can make to help save our climate and way of life,” Schwarzenegger wrote.

A July poll by the non-partisan research organization Public Policy Institute of California said 67% of likely voters in the state favored the move toward 100% renewable energy, with 21% opposed and the rest undecided.

The California Public Utilities Commission said prices for both solar and wind power have dropped in the state, with the price utilities paid for solar energy down 77% between 2008 and 2015, with the price of wind contracts falling 47% during that same period.

State data shows that since 2004, when renewable energy projects began being developed in earnest in California, the state’s GHG emissions have fallen 13%. Officials say the state’s economy has grown 26% since 2004.

Previous renewable energy laws in California said those resources include solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydropower. The new law says that 40% of the 100% total can be from “carbon-free” sources—which includes nuclear power, and natural gas-fired power plants with carbon capture technology—after the 60% target is met.

NRG Energy last year ended its development of a natural gas-fired plant in Oxnard. GenOn Energy, a subsidiary of NRG, earlier this year said it would retire three gas-fired plants in California for economic reasons.

California’s lone nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo Country, is owned by PG&E. The utility has said it will close the plant by 2025.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).

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