Climate

California Governor Signs Ambitious Renewable Energy Bill Into Law

CREDIT: AP Photo/Nick Ut

California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during the White House-organized U.S. - China Climate Leaders Summit, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, in Los Angeles.

While a whole bunch of states are suing the EPA for regulating carbon spewing from the electricity sector, other states, such as California, are moving full-steam ahead towards renewables and carbon-cutting.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law Wednesday that requires state-regulated utilities to get a whopping 50 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and hydro, by 2030. The law also requires a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings by that year. The goals were previously laid out during Brown’s inaugural address.

“This is really a very significant occasion,” Brown said at the signing event Wednesday in Los Angeles. “California is taking the lead, there is no question about it.”

The state had previously set a mandate of procuring 33 percent renewable energy by 2020. The original bill, introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, is part of a larger suite of climate-related legislation introduced this year.

“California is laying the groundwork for a healthier and sustainable future for all of our families,” de León said in an emailed statement to ThinkProgress. “We are showing the world through innovation how we can transition and increase access to renewable energy while cleaning up the air we breathe, especially in our most polluted communities.”

It remains to be seen exactly how California’s utilities will achieve this new goal. A report from Energy+Environment Economics earlier this year found that “significant renewable integration challenges are likely to emerge… above 33 percent.” However, benchmarks for renewable energy are constantly increasing, while smart grids and storage help even out demand and make managing transmission easier.

California already gets more electricity from solar than any other state in the country, with enough solar capacity installed in the state to power nearly 3 million homes — and that investment has paid off. Nearly 55,000 Californians work in the solar industry.

But not all news out of the clean energy industry is good. Some projects have been criticized for their outsized impact on natural resources — i.e. plant and animal habitats. A new report from the Nature Conservancy, though, suggests that California can reach its 50 percent goals without adversely impacting, well, nature, and without increasing costs.

“The goals in developing renewable energy and protecting California’s natural resources don’t need to conflict,” Erica Brand, energy program director at the Nature Conservancy, told ThinkProgress. But land use is also an important component of nature — and of climate change mitigation.

Of course, climate change itself has adverse effects on wildlife. “Moving California to a clean energy future…is incredibly exciting and possible,” Brand said. “It’s important for our community, our economy, and the environment.”

California has the third-lowest emissions per capita (after Washington, D.C. and New York), but as the most populous state, it is still the second-largest emitter in the country. Meanwhile, the state has been hit hard by a drought that has been tied to climate change.

Wednesday’s new law is unlikely to be the last thing California says about climate change mitigation. A part of the original bill that also called for 50 percent reductions in petroleum use in California’s cars and trucks was jettisoned last month, under pressure from the oil industry, supporters said.

Nationwide, transportation accounts for about 30 percent of carbon emissions, but California, with its so-called car culture, is even higher. According to state data, 38 percent the state’s greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation in 2009.

But even without the oil limits, California is one of the country’s most aggressive states on climate change action. Hawaii, which recently set a goal of reaching 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, is the only state that has been more ambitious in its energy planning. California is the only state to have an energy storage mandate.

The governor, for his part, is leading the charge against anyone who denies the science of climate change.

“Climate skeptics don’t quite get it,” Brown said Wednesday. “They are in political Pluto, and we have to bring them back to Earth, where the rest of us live.”