Environment & Science

California governor signs aggressive climate change bill

Gov. Jerry Brown is expected at Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles Wednesday, October 7, 2015, to sign an ambitious climate change measure. (File photo: Brown at a news conference at Google headquarters on September 25, 2012 in Mountain View).
Gov. Jerry Brown is expected at Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles Wednesday, October 7, 2015, to sign an ambitious climate change measure. (File photo: Brown at a news conference at Google headquarters on September 25, 2012 in Mountain View).
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that seeks to increase California's use of renewable energy sources by 50 percent. The bill also calls for the state to double energy efficiency in buildings by 2030. 

Is 50 percent achievable?

Industry experts are bullish on the state’s ability to obtain half its power from renewable sources, largely because the cost of installing solar and wind energy is getting cheaper.

Consultant Janice Lin, with Oakland-based Strategen, told KPCC that's what’s harder is balancing how much energy the state’s generating every day with how much people want.

Emerging strategies will target consumers, she said — to discourage demand when energy is scarce, and encourage it when solar and wind energy are abundant.

“We’re going to have a strong need to increase and decrease consumption at specific times of day, and resources that can do that on command are more valuable than resources that cannot,” Lin said.

Tools for doing that will include consumer-facing apps that could, for example, encourage you to charge your electric car when demand is low, or warn you when the price of energy for heating up your pool is higher.

Lin said that emerging technology will also focus on storing energy for use at peak times. Last month, Southern California Edison opened the largest energy storage in North America in Tehachapi, and the investor-owned utility is investigating a regional network for storing energy in the Los Angeles Basin.

“We think storage is key,” Lin said.

— Molly Peterson, KPCC

Brown vs. oil

Brown approved the measure after losing a political battle against oil interests as he also tried to cut petroleum use by half in the state.

He characterized the loss as a short-term setback. Still, the final bill lacked the punch that Brown might have hoped to deliver when he attends the United Nations climate change conference in Paris in November.

"We have the technological means and now we have the legal mandate to reduce carbon pollution," he said in a statement after the Legislature approved the watered-down SB350 in the final hours of the legislative session on Sept. 11.

The bill defers to state regulators to implement the programs.

The governor and Democratic leaders blamed the defeat on a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign by oil companies. They also met resistance from moderate Democrats concerned about job losses.

Brown, a Democrat, began the year setting the most aggressive greenhouse-gas emissions benchmark in North America.

He discussed global warming concerns with the pope at the Vatican in July and has met with other leaders around the world on the issue.

He pitched the plan to cut petroleum use by half, boost renewable electricity production and double energy efficiency in existing buildings without specifying how California could achieve those far-reaching goals.

— Associated Press

Resistance in the Assembly

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, an L.A. Democrat, embraced the governor's goals when he introduced SB350. The measure sailed through the Senate but met resistance from Assembly Democrats when they returned from summer recess.

Many moderate Democrats were concerned that the petroleum mandate would hurt California's working-class residents. The lawmakers sought greater oversight of state regulators but Brown refused to give up what he viewed as executive authority.

They were concerned about the petroleum mandate and wanted greater oversight of the California Air Resources Board that has been in charge of implementing California's ambitious greenhouse gas emissions law.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, has said removing the proposed cap on oil use reflects how the state's energy policy affects its competitiveness.

"Californians are best served by inclusive energy policy and by a legislative body that retains authority on issues so critically important to jobs, communities and our way of life," she said in a statement at the time.

The governor has said the setback has only strengthened his resolve to clean up the environment for future generations.

"I'd say oil has won the skirmish, but they've lost the bigger battle," Brown said when he announced that lawmakers were scaling back the initial goals of SB350.

— Associated Press

This story has been updated.