California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill mandating the state’s utilities transition their electricity production completely to sources that emit zero carbon dioxide by 2045.
Introduced by California state Sen. Kevin de León (D–Los Angeles), S.B. 100 requires the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to increase its existing renewables energy requirement in a graduated fashion, mandating 50 percent of the electricity provided by utilities come from approved renewable sources—wind and solar—by 2026 and 60 percent by 2030. By 2045, 100 percent of the electricity generated in the state will have to come from sources that emit no carbon dioxide. The latter requirement will allow electricity generated by geothermal power, limited biomass sources, hydropower, nuclear power, and natural gas combined with carbon capture and storage technology.
Hydropower, nuclear, and biomass combined currently generate 27 percent of California’s electricity.
On the same day he signed S.B. 100, Brown signed an executive order establishing a target for the state to become carbon-dioxide-neutral by 2045, by managing the state’s soils and forests, for instance, to remove as much carbon dioxide as is emitted by human activities.
‘Will Increase Energy Poverty’
California has some the highest energy costs in the country, with residents paying around 40 percent more than the national average, says California Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R–Lake Elsinore). S.B. 100 will put a heavier cost burden on residents, Melendez says.
“S.B. 100 will increase energy poverty, as you already have people spending, at least in the Central Valley, up to 15 percent of their monthly income on energy costs,” Melendez said. “So it is unclear how people, many of whom are already struggling to pay their electric bills, will be able to do so when you put S.B. 100 in place. There’s no cap on energy costs in the bill.
“The bill’s proponents don’t talk about the increased risks of blackouts, either,” said Melendez. “It’s typically in the triple digits in the summer for two, three months, meaning you have to run air conditioning, so you’re left to wonder how wind and solar are going to generate enough energy for all the businesses and all the households in this state in a way that avoids blackouts without forcing utilities to cycle electricity [planned rolling brownouts], resulting in people’s air conditioning not running when they need it.”
Ignoring Inconvenient Truths
Melendez says supporters of the new law also avoid acknowledging the environmental costs of renewable sources such as wind and solar.
“The bill is supposed to be about protecting the environment and improving human lives, yet no one talks about where the materials come from to build wind turbines and solar panels and the terrible toll it takes on people and the environment in areas where they mine the necessary resources,” Melendez said. “When it’s convenient to discuss the environmental impact of what energy people use, and the human impact, S.B. 100’s proponents talk about it. When it’s not convenient, they dismiss it.”
High Costs, Clean Alternatives
California’s current wind and solar mandates are a major factor in the state’s high electricity prices, says William F. Shughart, research director at the Independent Institute.
“California is home to the ‘cleanest’ electric power grid in the nation, with its heavy reliance on renewable energy sources going a long way toward explaining why electricity rates are so high there despite substantial taxpayer-financed subsidies,” Shughart said. “The costs of the infrastructure required to convert all power plants to 100 percent renewable will ultimately be shifted largely to ratepayers since, under current rules, regulators allow public utilities to add the cost of new capital equipment to the utilities’ rate bases, passing those costs on to consumers.”
Shughart says natural gas and nuclear energy would be a better choice for California, as they are reliable, offer environmental benefits, and don’t depend on potential, unproven technological advances.
“Natural gas is abundant and cheap, and burning it produces a much smaller carbon footprint than burning coal, while nuclear power emits no carbon dioxide and new modular nuclear reactors are much safer than those currently in use anywhere in the United States,” Shughart said. “Unless new technologies become available for storing the power produced by renewable energy sources, California may have to rethink its commitment to a 100 percent fossil-fuel-free world and consider the environmental benefits of natural gas and nuclear power.
“Anything else is wishful thinking,” said Shughart. “Good intentions don’t necessarily lead to good public policies, and the ‘perfect’ can become the enemy of the ‘good.'”
Linnea Lueken ([email protected]) writes from Laramie, Wyoming.
California state Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore): https://ad67.asmrc.org/; https://lcmspubcontact.lc.ca.gov/PublicLCMS/ContactPopup.php?district=AD67&inframe=Y