California lawmakers are racing to pass a sweeping set of clean-energy reforms before the state legislative session ends next week. The legislation would require the state to draw half its electricity from renewable-energy sources -- the most aggressive target of its kind in the nation.
Gov. Jerry Brown proposed the policy and other climate change measures in January during the inauguration to his fourth term. Brown has pledged to accelerate California’s environmental policies as part of a broader effort to push other U.S. states -- and countries -- to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change.
California’s state Senate passed the legislation, SB 350, in June, but the bill still needs approval from the state Assembly. If passed and signed by Brown, the measure will require California to generate 50 percent of its electricity from wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources by 2030 -- up from an existing target of 33 percent in 2020.
Nationwide, only about 13 percent of total U.S. electricity generation came from renewables and conventional hydropower in 2014, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated.
California’s largest utility companies, which back the 50-percent renewable-energy target, claim to be well on their way toward meeting the current goal. The tougher clean-energy mandate is expected to boost jobs and investment in the solar and wind power sectors in particular, although proponents say they hope it can support development of round-the-clock power sources such as geothermal, biomass and energy storage systems. The Senate bill also proposes to double the energy efficiency of the state’s existing buildings.
“If that happens, we’re going to see a lot of job creation that goes with that,” said Bob Keefe, executive director of Environmental Entrepreneurs, a sustainable-business advocacy group. New renewable-energy projects in California created around 3,000 jobs in the first six months of this year, or about 15 percent of the 20,300 jobs created across the country in that period, the organization found in a jobs report published Thursday.
However, the Senate measure is facing fierce opposition from California’s oil and gas industry. Included in the legislation is a plan to slash gasoline and diesel use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent by 2030, a measure that fuel producers and providers contend would undercut their businesses.
Critics of the higher renewable-energy mandate say they’re worried that forcing utilities to use more alternative-energy supplies would raise electricity costs for residents and companies. Energy + Environmental Economics, a consulting firm, found that getting to 50 percent clean energy would raise energy prices between 9 to 16 percent, depending on the mix of energy sources.
“How are we going to make sure that we build enough renewables in the most cost-efficient manner possible?” Arne Olson, a partner at the firm, this week told the Desert Sun, a Palm Springs newspaper.
California legislators have until Sept. 11 to pass the climate change legislation.