By Julie Cart
Environmentalists are accustomed to notching wins in the California Legislature, where their projects often receive a friendly hearing from a supermajority of Democrats and a governor with a laser focus on climate change.
But there was an unexpected setback near the frantic end of the recent legislative session, when two energy-related proposals stalled.
There’s little lost in putting off one of them, the creation of a regional electricity grid that would supply the Western states, until lawmakers reconvene in January. But postponing Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León’s plan to accelerate the “greening” of California’s own grid with more renewable energy could carry a price tag for consumers.
A new report from the state Public Utilities Commission found that the sooner the state’s electric power providers adopted more wind and solar energy, the cheaper that power would be. This is because existing federal subsidies for renewable-energy companies that sell power to utilities are scheduled to be phased out, making it more expensive to build wind and solar facilities and, ultimately, driving up costs.
In addition, the potential for related new jobs and cleaner air could be lost along with any subsidies, according to some experts.
De León’s proposal called for a modest nudge to the state’s renewable energy use, to 60 percent of its total by 2030, up from the current 50 percent. It set a goal of 100 percent by 2045. Proponents argued that ramping up renewable-energy procurement is attainable and climate-friendly. It could also could mean cheaper energy. The senator said he will bring the bill back next year, so there’s still time to help consumers.
“This would have further lowered our utility bills,” de León said in an interview. “This could have saved hundreds of millions of dollars if we procured power at a low cost before federal tax credits expire.”
Economists expect that, as California increasingly gets its power from renewable sources, it will spur clean-energy investment and technological efficiency, ultimately bringing down costs. It would also encourage those who develop renewable energy to move quickly on their most immediate projects.
Stanford engineering professor Mark Jacobson emphasized other benefits that accompany an increase in clean energy. He calculates that de León’s 100-percent goal would…