A bill mandating that California receive all of its electricity from renewable sources passed through a key legislative committee this week, moving the nation’s sixth largest economy one step closer to becoming 100 percent renewable.
The bill, sponsored by Senate President Kevin de León (D), would revise the state’s renewable portfolio standard to require the state obtain 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources like wind, solar, or hydropower by 2045. It would also move up the state’s previous goal of reaching the 50 percent clean energy threshold by 2030 to 2026.
If the legislation were to become law, it would make California the second state, alongside Hawaii, to mandate 100 percent renewable energy from the electricity sector. According to the Hawaiian state legislature, which approved its 100 percent renewable electricity goal in 2015, progress towards that goal has already saved the state over a quarter of a billion dollars “by reducing reliance on more expensive fossil fuels.”
Massachusetts is also considering a bill that would require the state to obtain 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. That bill actually goes further than both California and Hawaii, requiring that the state obtain all of its energy — including electricity, transportation, and manufacturing — from renewable sources.
Significant barriers still exist to obtaining 100 percent of a state’s electricity from renewable energy sources. Cities and states can’t always control the power mix they receive from the grid — California, for instance, imports about 6 percent of its electricity from out of state, which makes it reliant, in some respects, on the energy policies of its neighbors. Transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy also means deploying renewable energy and energy storage infrastructure on a previously unprecedented scale, which comes with its own regulatory and market-based hurdles.
In light of the Trump administration’s reversal on United States climate policies, California has often been held as an example of progressive climate action at the state level. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has been one of the nation’s most vocal proponents of climate action in the face of the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks, working to further both the United States’ commitment to the Paris climate agreement and forging a carbon tax agreement with China.
“While the federal government abandons its commitments to clean energy, California is showing that we will continue to drive the transition away from fossil fuels,” Kathryn Phillips, Sierra Club California director, said in a statement on Wednesday. “With today’s vote, California is now one step closer towards moving to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.”
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California is already the country’s leading state for installed solar capacity, with some 18,296 megawatts — enough to power over 4 million homes — installed through 2016. In March of this year, the state passed a major milestone when solar power supplied more than half of the state’s electricity for a few hours.
Still, struggles remain for California’s transition to a completely renewable energy system. The state’s cap and trade program — largely thought of as its signature climate initiative — is set to expire in 2020, and the legislature has struggled to come up with an alternative that appeals to a majority of legislators. And the state assembly recently delayed a bill that would have created a rebate program for long-term energy storage, something that proponents argue would have helped make renewable energy storage more affordable for low-income communities.