While Donald Trump is turning back the clock on climate and renewable energy policy, politicians in California vow to maintain their ambitious “green” policies, writes Fereidoon Sionshansi, president of Menlo Energy Economics and publisher of the newsletter EEnergy Informer. State lawmakers have even introduced new bills that go much further, requiring all new buildings to be equipped with solar power, and taking the State to 100% renewables.
Delivering his state of the state address 4 days after President Trump’s inauguration, California Governor Jerry Brown delivered a defiant message that the Golden State is intent on following a different vision and a radically different path to the one coming out of the nation’s capital.
Brown reminded everyone who needed a reminder of California’s economic and political might: “This is California, the 6th most powerful economy in the world. One out of every 8 Americans lives right here and 27% – almost eleven million – were born in a foreign land. When California does well, America does well. And when California hurts, America hurts.”
Without mentioning President Trump by name, Gov. Brown said, “While no one knows what the new leaders will actually do, there are signs that are disturbing. We have seen the bald assertion of “alternative facts.” We have heard the blatant attacks on science. Familiar signposts of our democracy – truth, civility, working together – have been obscured or swept aside.”
Climate change was mentioned third on Brown’s list of priorities for California: “Whatever they do in Washington, they can’t change the facts. And these are the facts: the climate is changing, the temperatures are rising and so are the oceans. Natural habitats everywhere are under increasing stress. The world knows this.”
“194 countries signed the Paris Agreement to control greenhouse gases. Our own voluntary agreement to accomplish the same goal – the “Under Two M.O.U.” (Memorandum of Understanding refers to keeping global temperature rise to below 2 degrees C) – has 165 signatories, representing a billion people.”
“We cannot fall back and give in to the climate deniers. The science is clear. The danger is real.”
Referring to the Trump Administration’s denial of climate change and “alternative facts”, he said, “When the science is clear or when our own eyes tell us that the seats in this chamber are filled or that the sun is shining, we must say so, not construct some alternate universe of non-facts that we find more pleasing.”
Most telling were his parting words at the end of his speech. He said: “California is not turning back. Not now, not ever.”
Taking a cue from the Governor, Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) said, “Climate change is impacting California now, and we need to continue to take bold and effective action to address it head on to protect and improve the quality of life in California.”
For those not familiar with California’s ambitious climate agenda, the state’s goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 – by far the most ambitious target of any state in the US. The governor’s message was that California will stay the course having signed the law in Sept 2016 even if it means fighting an obstinate Trump Administration.
To achieve the target, it is not enough to decarbonize the electric power sector – the transportation sector needs to be electrified, with electricity coming mostly from renewable resources. California aims to add 4.2 million zero-emissions vehicles while further reducing state’s vehicle emissions standards, and greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s refineries by 20%.
Speaking in December 2016 at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco. Gov. Brown pledged to continue California’s environmental progress, even if Trump chooses to cut funding for federal climate programs or climate research.
“We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers, and we’re ready to fight” adding, “Whatever Washington thinks they are doing, California is the future.”
Under the Clean Air Act, blue states such as California, Massachusetts, New York have some flexibility to set more stringent emissions standards than those required by the federal government. California set its own air pollution standards before the federal EPA was established. It must now seek a special waiver from the EPA, which will be harder to get under the Trump’s new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier and a long-time critic of the EPA.
All of this does not prevent Californian legislators from introducing bills that will make current climate policy even more ambitious than it is now.
Thus, in December 2016, California State Senator Scott Wiener introduced legislation that would require the installation of solar power — PV or water heating — on all new residential and commercial buildings constructed in California moving forward.
While such a requirement already exists for the city of San Francisco, under certain conditions, the proposed law – if approved – would apply to the entire state.
Explaining the proposed law, Wiener said, “Our environment and our future generations need us to act now, especially as a wave of climate change deniers invade Washington as part of the new presidential administration,” adding, “Climate change is real, and we must reverse course from the polluting energy practices that got us here, not double down on dirty power. California can — and will — remain the national leader in building a clean energy future, and solar power is critical in moving us down that path.”
Existing California law requires that at least 15% of the roof area on all new small and mid-sized buildings be “solar ready.” This requirement means the solar-ready area of the roof must be un-shaded by the proposed building itself, and free of obtrusions. The new proposed state law would apply to new residential and commercial buildings of 10 floors or less.
Another proposal, by Senate President Kevin de León (Democrat of Los Angeles) seeks a 100 percent renewable electricity supply by 2045. This proposal “is a response to cheap renewable energy prices and the state’s continued leadership on clean energy and climate,” the Senate leader’s consultant has said.
The bill would increase the current 50 percent renewable portfolio standard to 100 percent. It also moves up by five years the 50 percent alternative energy mandate to the year 2025 from 2030. More notable is that the bill would change the current renewable portfolio standard cap on out-of-state supplies, allowing alternative energy resources from anywhere in the interconnected grid, including Canada and Mexico, to satisfy the 100 percent standard.
The new measure is good news for Wyoming wind developer Phil Anschutz, who is developing the 600 kV TransWest Express Transmission Project. In January, the outgoing Obama Administration approved Anschutz’s 3,100 MW Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project. TransWest would carry the output 750 miles, delivering it to the biggest energy market in the West, California, as well as Nevada and Arizona.
The earliest the bill will be heard is in late March.
It will be interesting to see how the conflicts between the states and federal government can or will be resolved – a topic on the minds of Brown and his Lt. Governor, Gavin Newsom, who is expected to run for office after his boss’ current term ends.
So far, California politicians at both state and national level are gearing up for a fight to maintain the state’s energy, environmental and immigration policies intact. It is likely to be a tough battle. Similar skirmishes are likely in other blue states in the coming months, and years.
This article was first published in the March 2017 issue of EEnergy Informer, the international energy newsletter published by Fereidoon Sionshansi of Menlo Energy Economics in the US, and is republished here with permission. To get a subscription to this newsletter, click here.