Race to 100% clean electricity clears high hurdle

Source: Anne C. Mulkern, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2018

Legislation that would mandate California switching to 100 percent clean electricity by 2045 cleared a key vote yesterday, putting the state close to making it law.

The California State Assembly passed S.B. 100, a measure that would declare it state policy to reach “zero-carbon” electricity by 2045. The Senate approved the bill in May. If the upper chamber accepts changes made in the Assembly and Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs the measure, California would join Hawaii in approving a 100 percent green electricity mandate.

“When it comes to fighting climate change and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, California won’t back down,” said Sen. Kevin de León (D), the bill’s sponsor. “We have taken another great stride toward a 100 percent clean energy future. S.B. 100 will spur technological innovation, jump-start new jobs and keep our air clean for generations to come.”

Hawaii passed its mandate — 100 percent renewable electricity by 2045 — three years ago. The Aloha State when it approved its law had no blueprint for how to make it happen. Much of it remains in the planning stage, though leaders argue it’s achievable (Climatewire, Sept. 5, 2017).

California, the nation’s most populous state, with S.B. 100 would go beyond setting a goal. The measure would put new requirements on utilities and state agencies. At the same time, some of how the state would hit 100 percent carbon-free power would need to be developed later.

The measure would order utilities and other electricity sellers to make 60 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030, up from the current requirement of 50 percent by that year. The bill then would make the state responsible for figuring out how to turn the other 40 percent of electricity green.

Key state agencies would have to adopt the all-green electricity mandate as part of their planning and update the Legislature on progress every four years. Meanwhile, the California Public Utilities Commission, the Energy Commission and the state’s Air Resources Board would have to ensure that the transition to a zero-carbon electric system doesn’t hike greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere in the Western grid.

The term “zero-carbon” is undefined; lawmakers intend it to go beyond solar, biomass, wind and the other sources eligible for California’s renewables mandate. Large-scale hydropower, for example, can count as “zero-carbon,” although it doesn’t qualify under the renewables portion of the law.

Michael Wara, director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University, said S.B. 100 struck the right balance.

“Too often energy policy is either all dreams or all small ball goals,” Wara said in a tweet. De León and others who worked on it “deserve credit for working to create an alchemy between the ‘we don’t know quite how to do it yet’ with the ‘locking in the progress that we know can happen,'” he said.

Brown mum

The Assembly passed the measure with a 44-33 vote. Democrats have a supermajority in the chamber. All but one of the votes for S.B. 100 came from Democrats.

The Republican voting for it was Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, who represents an area east of San Francisco. Her office did not immediately respond to a question about reasons for her vote. Baker last year was among the eight Republicans who voted to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions for another decade (Climatewire, June 21, 2017).

Timing of the final vote in the Senate hasn’t been decided yet. A de León aide said that “we aren’t anticipating too big a fight” in getting Senate passage of the Assembly-approved version.

Brown’s office declined comment yesterday. He has largely supported action on climate change, however, on Monday calling it an “apocalyptic threat” as the state released a forecast on how warming will affect California (Greenwire, Aug. 27).

De León during a press conference noted that the governor several times previously supported legislation to increase renewable power mandates. In terms of Brown’s willingness to sign S.B. 100, de León said, “I haven’t had that firm commitment from the governor. I know he historically does not divulge or show his cards” on legislation before deciding whether to sign.

De León rejected the notion that the measure would raise electricity costs, as some opponents said during the Assembly floor debate.

“Those arguments are the same arguments that have been used historically to drive fear among the voters as well as among elected officials,” de León said.

When the Legislature previously approved renewable mandates of 20 percent, 33 percent and then 50 percent, opponents “said the economy would be destroyed, yet we’re the fifth-largest economy in the world,” de León said. People “said that unemployment would go skyrocketing high, but yet we’ve actually grown this economy.”

The state has 500,000 clean energy jobs, he said, compared with the loss of coal jobs in other states.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D), who shepherded the measure in the lower chamber, said that if S.B. 100 is signed by the governor, it would give certainty that “allows investment in new technology.” De León predicted that “market forces will actually deliver us to 100 percent clean energy” by approximately 2035.

Comparisons with Trump administration

S.B. 100’s passage in the Assembly triggered a cascade of praise from green groups, which saw the bill becoming law as close to a done deal.

“The goal of 100 percent clean electricity is ambitious but well within reach, and is critical to reducing global warming pollution from other sectors like transportation,” said Laura Wisland, manager of Western states energy for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The state has demonstrated multiple times that when it sets ambitious climate and clean energy goals, it achieves them in record time.”

Some drew comparisons between what’s happening in California and at the federal government level, as President Trump seeks to curb the Obama administration’s vehicle mileage and emissions rules and to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, aimed at cutting greenhouse gas pollution from existing power plants.

“While Trump is taking the nation backwards by deregulating and subsidizing the coal, oil and natural gas industries in D.C., California is rolling up its sleeves to build bold climate protections,” said Paul Cort, an Earthjustice attorney.

“Already home to 500,000 clean energy jobs and the largest manufacturing powerhouse in the United States, California is proving that it can be done.”