California Leads Way on Green Energy3 min read


While a new Congress covers its ears and shuts its eyes to global warming, power-plant pollution and turmoil in the oil markets, California has seized the national leadership in clean and sustainable energy by committing itself to obtain 33 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2020.

On Tuesday, when Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 2X, a longstanding goal became law. It is essential to address climate change, reduce air pollution, diversify our sources of energy and stimulate the economy. And it is readily achievable.

Already many utilities are closing in on the previous renewable energy mandate of 20 percent. Billions of dollars are being invested and thousands of jobs are being created by renewable energy companies whose enthusiasm for doing business in our state will be multiplied by the clear market signal sent by SB 2X that California wants the kind of electricity they generate.

SunPower CEO Tom Werner, at whose brand new solar manufacturing plant in Milpitas Governor Brown signed the bill, said the new plant is a direct result of the commitment the 33% mandate represents. Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director of the Independent Energy Producers Association has said that his members have billions of dollars invested in biomass, solar, wind and geothermal generation, and that they are looking to expand here in California.

Utility customers need not worry that SB 2X will amount to a mandate to hand over their hard-earned dollars to a new group of privileged energy companies. Consumer protection is built in as California diversifies its sources of electricity. Never again will a small group of companies, be able to hold California hostage, as happened a decade ago.

There are explicit cost protections as well. Utilities may pass up purchases of renewable energy if the price is unreasonable, or the difficulty of connecting it to the grid is too great.  Both the Public Utility Commission’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates and the consumer watchdog The Utility Reform Network (TURN) endorsed the bill.

They are also reading the same energy trends we all are. Fossil fuels are finite and demand for energy is growing. Fossil fuel prices will keep heading up. Renewable prices are headed down.

Global temperatures, however, are not headed down. California, the United States, and the world cannot address climate change without a markedly different approach to generating energy, one which greatly reduces the creation of carbon dioxide as a byproduct of energy consumption.  At the same time, renewable energy also creates far less traditional pollution, such as ozone smog.

Global climate change is not the only international implication of setting an ambitious renewable energy standard. With this legislation, California is pointing the way for the nation to an energy policy that permit’s America’s foreign policy based on American values and American interests, rather than our energy needs.

Senate Bill 2X applies to all electricity retailers in the state – investor-owned utilities (IOUs), municipal utilities, and independent sellers. The previous 20% standard applied directly to investor-owned utilities and independent sellers. The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) expects IOUs to provide 21% of their electricity from renewables in 2011.

Work on raising California’s renewable energy standard began four years ago when I first introduced legislation that would write 33 percent into law. In 2009, my Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards bill, Senate Bill 14, was approved by both houses of the Legislature, but vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger over concerns about precisely what energy contracts would qualify to meet the goal. In 2010, my Senate Bill 722 addressed those concerns and garnered strong support for the 33% standard, but did not pass the Legislature by the end-of-session deadline.

Now, thanks to the support of environmental groups and renewable energy producers, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas&Electric, many of the state’s municipal utilities, consumer advocates and unions representing construction and electrical workers, California is helping itself economically and environmentally, and showing the nation the way toward a clean energy future.


State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) is the author of Senate Bill 2X.


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