Gov. Brown signed SBX1 2 into law last week. It raises the amount of renewable energy that all state utilities must use to 33% by 2020. Previously, it was 20% and only applied to some utilities. This is by far the most ambitious clean energy plan in the nation.
But that didn’t stop Brown from saying California could do even better. He says 40% renewable energy “is well within our grasp in the near future.” Further, he believes the bill will boost investment in cleantech, create tens of thousands of new jobs, as well as reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The big three public utilities in California – Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric – have had varied results in trying to reach the previous goal of 20% renewables. SoCal Edison was the highest at 19.4%, followed by PG&E with 17.7%. San Diego trailed badly at 11.9%.
However, now all utilities, not just the big three, are mandated to sell 33% renewable energy within 9 years. Whether this is a realistic goal remains to be seen. Currently, large hydropower produces the most renewable energy in California. This surprises most people, but hydro has been around for decades, and it is quite reliable and cost effective. However, most of the good hydro locations are already taken. California also has ample, untapped geothermal power in addition to vast deserts ideal for locating solar and wind power.
But it’s not just about building huge power plants in remote locations. The power needs to get to the cities and towns. The grid will need to be strengthened and made smarter so it can handle this new power. This is made more complicated by the variability of renewable power production and of widely distributed renewable power generation (like solar panels on roofs of homes.) Our current grid was not designed for sudden variability in power generation from a source or for power going to and from homes.
Clearly, California has the resources to get to 33% renewable power by 2020. But it will take money, and lots of it. Also, to succeed in this goal, California’s ponderous and endless regulatory system needs to be reformed so new proposals for energy plants can be accepted or rejected quickly. This needs to happen at all levels: state, county, and city, as well as the interminable number of agencies that need to approve such plans. It would also help if Green NIMBYs weren’t totally in favor of renewable energy as long as they never have to look at a wind turbine.
Going to more renewable energy will unquestionably raise the price of energy and that in turn will cause other price increases. It also means more regulation for businesses. In a fine piece of political theatre, Assemblyman Dan Logue tossed 800 pages of timber harvesting regulations onto the floor during the energy debate, saying that overregulation was causing businesses to leave California. He was rebuked, apologized for his behavior but added “I don’t apologize for the fact that this body has created a climate of business hostility that is second to none.” He does have a point.
While I completely favor renewable energy, it seems that SBX1 2 has mandated a massive change with no clear idea how this will be accomplished.