California leads the country in clean energy programs and environmental standards. The state has made notable strides in implementing Clean Power Plan regulations on carbon emission limits, and in protecting the health and safety of its most impacted communities. This year, California is considering several pieces of legislation that would impact the environment, but not all of them are good.
Advancing renewable energy goals
SB 100 would accelerate California’s Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) to new goals of generating 60% of all of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2030, and 100% from renewable sources by 2045. This bill would position California as the state with the most ambitious goals in the country. If SB 100 passes, the state could serve as a model for the rest of the country on how to reach 100% clean energy generation and cut carbon emissions.
SB 100 almost passed the legislature last year, but was held up in the Assembly Utilities & Energy Committee in the final days of the 2017 session. The bill was finally passed out of that committee in early July and is headed to the Assembly floor—where it must pass before August 31st.
Giving away energy control
Unfortunately, another bill — AB 813— is being considered concurrently that may undermine California’s renewable energy progress. AB 813 is the third attempt by the legislature to create a regional energy transmission network that would be shared among all of the western states. Proponents claim that regionalization would accelerate the adoption of renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, across western states and help to phase out fossil fuels. The California Independent System Operator believes the shared grid would also help the state reach renewable energy goals by 2030, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But AB 813 cedes control of California’s energy grid, and will likely increase the cost of electricity for Californians. The bill would transfer authority for buying and selling electricity away from the current California-controlled market (the Energy Imbalance Market) to a the new Western Interstate Market. The new market would have zero board members appointed by California despite the state of California using more electricity than any other state in the West. If California were to disagree with the new Regional Transmission Organization, which would oversee this new market, the state could appeal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). However, four of the five FERC commissioners have been appointed by Trump, which makes it unlikely that California could win any concessions from an appeal.
The loss of sole decision-making power over the energy generated or consumed in California, and submission to a Trump-controlled regulatory body, could result in dirty energy coming to California. It would also likely result in an increase in utility bills and additional fees for California electricity consumers. And even the supporters of AB 813 admit that the bill would ship 23,000 wind and solar jobs out of state (fig 5).
Governor Jerry Brown is aggressively backing AB 813 and lobbying for support from other influential environmentalists in the state. He believes that California could rely on alternative energy sources shared through the grid. Environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, the California Environmental Justice Alliance, and several California 350 chapters, that oppose the bill disagree; they worry the regional grid would increase the input of too many coal-friendly states.
The bill almost failed in the Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee in June, falling short by a few key votes from legislators who had publicly voiced their concerns. However, despite the public narrative from California environmental groups (and the other 120+ organizations that the Senate Energy Committee’s bill analysis listed as opposing the bill), it passed through committee after several Senators yielded to pressure directly from Governor Brown.
Unfortunately, it appears that SB 100 and AB 813 may be tied together in some unfortunate political horse trading. It is important for constituents to speak out in favor of SB 100 and against AB 813. If a regional grid operator is formed as a result of AB 813, California might find SB 100’s mandates are unenforceable.
Protecting the coast from offshore drilling
In January, Trump signed an executive order that would open almost all of our coastal waters to potential oil and gas drilling. California swiftly fired back with two (identical) sister bills—AB 1775 and SB 834—that would ban offshore drilling on California’s coasts.
Both bills are flying through the legislature and will likely pass easily.