California Becomes Second to Commit to Carbon-Free Electricity


California, the world's fifth largest economy, just committed to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. State bill 100, or SB 100 as it is commonly referred to, was passed in California's Senate last year, passed in the state legislature in late August of this year, and was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown today, September 10th. The move to aggressively pursue carbon-free electricity underscores California's determination to act as a leader on climate change, a particularly welcome move since the federal government has decided to aggressively deprioritize the issue.

SB 100 builds upon a prior mandate in California to generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. SB 100 changes the timeline on the 50 percent renewables target, moving it to 2026, adds a 60 percent renewables target to 2030, and, of course, adds the 100 percent carbon-free target by 2045. It's worth noting that the first two "half-way" targets are actually targets for renewable energy electricity, not carbon-free electricity.

California has been slowly increasing its share of renewable energy since 2002, when the first renewable legislation mandated that the state meet 20 percent renewable energy by 2017. Since then renewable demands have been bumped up slowly, but surely, until they reached the most recent target of 50 percent by 2030. These targets have not been especially ambitious, but they have provided a stable market environment for renewable energy technology to advance and thrive. Across the United States, we've seen that utilities are decarbonizing simply because it makes financial sense to do so. At least part of the reason low-carbon and carbon-free technologies have reached competitive costs is because California has provided assurance to R&D teams that those technologies will be welcome.

With the passing of SB 100, California joins Hawaii in becoming the second state moving towards carbon-free electricity. Hawaii passed state legislation in 2015 that mandated 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045, and as of spring 2018 Hawaii had achieved multiple days when 60 percent of its power was from renewable sources. Hawaii has historically had to import high-priced oil to generate electricity and consequently, has had electricity prices almost double the nation's average. Taking advantage of its natural solar, wind, and geothermal energy resources has made financial sense for the state for years, even when renewable technology was not as cost competitive as it is now. Hawaii currently gets an average of 33 percent of its electricity from rooftop solar and has 60 utility-scale renewable energy projects providing its grid with power.

Between a history of our nation following in California's footsteps and the fact that carbon-free electricity is becoming cost competitive everywhere, I'm hopeful that we'll see more legislation of this kind - and soon!

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