California needs a better plan to achieve ambitious clean energy goals

Mar 27, 2020 | Environment

By V. John White | Special to CalMatters

California has set ambitious goals to fight climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector. But, as the old saying goes, a goal without a plan is just a wish.

Current state law calls for 60 percent of our energy to come from renewables by 2030, and for 100 percent clean energy by 2045. This builds upon earlier legislation that required half of our electricity to come from renewables by 2030. The state Legislature has set the destination but left it to state agencies to figure out the best route to reach it.

These goals are much more than just numbers on paper. Our ability – or failure – to meet them will have a real impact on the daily lives of all who call California home. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is about cleaning up our air, lowering health costs and creating a more productive society.

So far, we’ve made good progress toward these goals. Today, about a third of our energy comes from renewables, according to the California Energy Commission. Still we need to nearly double our supply of wind, solar and other clean power production over the next decade to stay on track.

The latest plan for meeting our goals in the electricity sector was released last month by the California Public Utilities Commission and plots out the actual resources needed to increase our clean energy production.

The good news is that we are planning. The bad news is that we are planning for the wrong target.

The CPUC plan is based on an outdated greenhouse gas reduction target that fails to take into account the more aggressive goals the state has since adopted, including electrification of buildings and transportation.  If we don’t change our trajectory immediately, we will be doomed to miss our 2030 and 2045 goals.

Energy and environmental groups like mine have voiced alarm that the CPUC’s target is much too lax and will not deliver the investments we need now to create a clean energy future.

Another issue with the CPUC’s recommended plan – it includes an ongoing reliance on natural gas plants running at their least efficient levels. In fact, the CPUC admits that this plan would actually increase pollution by nearly 8 percent.

That’s bad for our communities and bad for our planet.

If we are truly going to walk the walk when it comes to our climate commitments, we can no longer take a business as usual approach. We need aggressive, forward-thinking policies that appropriately identify the need for, and support development of, the necessary clean energy resources in the timeframe required to meet our climate goals and maintain grid reliability.

The CPUC needs to rethink its plan and make sure it gets back on track to meet all of California’s clean energy goals.

Given the urgency of the global climate crisis and California’s prominent place as a leader in clean energy, there is no time to delay. We need to make the right decisions and investments now to keep us on course to lower emissions, accelerate and further develop the clean energy market, and ensure that cleaner air and a healthier environment for all is more than just a wish.

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V. John White is executive director and co-founder of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologiesvjw@ceert.org. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.

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