On January 5, California Governor Jerry Brown (D) gave an inaugural address in which he pledged to use his final term to enact broad energy and environmental reform to address climate change. Gov. Brown called on the state to increase electricity generation from renewable energy to 50 percent, reduce petroleum fuels for transportation by 50 percent, and double the energy efficiency of existing buildings – all of which he hopes to see done by 2030. The new renewable energy target is a step up from the state’s current goal of generating 33 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
In addition to these ambitious new goals, Gov. Brown outlined his interest in expanding and creating a number of projects to expand clean energy in California. Brown stated, “I envision a wide range of initiatives: more distributed power, expanded rooftop solar, micro-grids, an energy imbalance market, battery storage, the full integration of information technology and electrical distribution, and millions of electric and low-carbon vehicles.” Brown also listed environmental issues he plans to address, including short lived climate pollutants and managing land with climate in mind. “We must also reduce the relentless release of methane, black carbon and other potent pollutants across industries. And we must manage farm and rangelands, forests and wetlands so they can store carbon,” Brown said.
The new renewable energy target is going to rejuvenate California utilities’ efforts to install clean energy, according to Jerry Bloom of the Los Angeles law firm Winston & Strawn. Bloom says utilities have slowed investment in renewable energy, after getting on track to achieve California’s goal of 33 percent renewable energy. Bloom stated, “There has been a dramatic slowdown – or almost freezing out . . . There are no utility-scale contracts. There’s no real market. The utilities’ position is: ‘We’ve reached the 33 percent and we’re done. . . Fifty percent is a game changer.’” According to Bloom, renewable energy companies have been looking to international markets while they have waited for increased targets. If Gov. Brown’s proposal becomes reality, it will provide market confidence to increase investments in renewable projects, which will provide jobs and add tax revenue to the economy. In addition, Simon Mui, director of California vehicles and fuel research at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), speculated that the 50 percent decrease in petroleum fuels use will be difficult, but doable. Mui stated, “We’re already doing a lot of it, we know how to do it, and we basically need to be doing more of the same.”
California legislators from both sides of the aisle have voiced concerns how Brown’s vision might affect jobs and the economy. Republican State Senate Minority Leader, Bob Huff said, “At what point does being on the leading edge of environmental reform impact our ability to create jobs?” While Toni Atkins, Democratic Speaker of the Assembly remarked, “Not all Californians have come back from the recession. . . We have to make sure that we are looking out for them.” Many appreciate what Gov. Brown is attempting to accomplish, yet there is great concern the investment in energy infrastructure will cost taxpayers billions of dollars, raising fears of future tax increases. Other legislators believe dialing back austerity measures which were implemented at the height of the recession to reduce the state deficit should be the first priority.
The California oil industry is wary of the proposed goals, which are more favorable towards the renewable energy sector. However, the Western States Petroleum Association commented it was willing to work with Gov. Brown to find, “solutions that will sustain today’s energy and economic realities while protecting both our environment and future energy needs.” California is the third largest oil-producing state in the United States, and with decreased local fuel use, oil producers will have look afield for new markets. It is speculated California refineries will increase exports to Mexico and the rest of Central and South America.
Gov. Brown hopes through debate, compromise, and true governing that California can move forward with solutions that will allow the state to, “build on rock, not sand, so that when the storms come, our house stands."
Author: Samuel Beirne