By Jason Hopkins
September 12, 2018 - California is attempting to make its utility industry carbon-free within a few decades, but critics argue Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers might have bitten off more than they can chew.
Brown signed SB 100 into law Monday, mandating the state obtain 60 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. The law goes further, requiring California to be completely carbon-free by 2045. While the renewable energy mandate is confined to sources such as wind and solar, the 2045 target is more inclusive, allowing clean, non-renewable sources like nuclear energy to be in the mix.
“California is committed to doing whatever is necessary to meet the existential threat of climate change,” the outgoing governor said Monday as he signed the bill into law. The liberal leader of California has centered his gubernatorial legacy around environmental advocacy, and he considers the legislation to be essential in fighting climate change.
Going a step further, Brown issued an executive order tasking state regulators with how to make the entire state carbon-neutral.
Industry experts, however, are openly wondering if California is capable of making such a transition under its allotted timeframe. Namely, California’s emissions target is wholly dependent on rapid advancements in various clean technologies — something that isn’t a certainty.
“It’ll be an immense task for the state’s agencies to figure out how to implement the aspirational goal,” Axios energy reporter Ben Geman noted in his Tuesday newsletter.
California’s energy transition will require a major move from natural gas to renewables. An analysis by the Clean Air Task Force, an energy policy nonprofit, determined that the state would need to install over 200 times as many energy-storage capacity than it currently has to make up for the loss of these gas facilities. Bloomberg reported a successful move from natural gas to wind and solar “hinges on a big bet that battery costs will plunge.”
“We cannot meet our renewables and climate change goals by just shutting down natural gas plants,” Jan Smutny-Jones, CEO of the Independent Energy Producers Association, said in a statement to Utility Dive. Smutny-Jones derided the state legislature’s failure to pass two bills — AB 813 and AB 893 — that would have better paved the way for California to reach its target.
Furthermore, critics note that the mandate does not explicitly save the Diablo Canyon Power Plant — the last remaining nuclear plant in California. Despite Diablo generating 15 percent of the state’s clean electricity, the plant is slated to close down by 2025. It’s not clear how the closure will affect the state’s emissions goals.
An analysis by Environmental Progress determined that California has invested an estimated $100 million on wind and solar development. Had regulators directed that money toward nuclear energy instead, Environmental Progress notes, California would already have enough energy to completely replace fossil fuels in its in-state energy portfolio.