Clean electricity demands true collaboration

High-voltage power lines at sunset. (Photo: Ron Kacmarcik, via Shutterstocfk)

California is on the verge of joining Hawaii in setting the bold but achievable goal of getting to 100 percent clean electricity in just one generation. Other neighboring states are also developing very ambitious goals to double or even triple the amount of renewable energy they will generate over the next decade.

That vision is within reach thanks to dramatically lower costs for solar, wind, and geothermal, and batteries, as well as advancements in smart thermostats, appliances, electric vehicle chargers, and building management systems that lighten the load on the electrical transmission and distribution systems.

California’s policymakers will play a key role in paving the way for a cost-effective clean energy transformation.

To achieve 100 percent clean electricity cost-effectively, we need to keep every possible tool on the table to get us there. This means making sure California benefits from all of the clean energy technologies available to us today.

Developers of large-scale solar, wind and geothermal power plants need to be steadily adding more renewable generation to the best locations on the high voltage transmission system. At the same time, the state should be encouraging investments in smaller-scale clean energy projects on the distribution grid from customers and competitive entities to make the way we deliver power smarter, more efficient, and more resilient.

Private sector technology companies need to be able to offer consumers solutions, like smart thermostats and electric vehicle charging, to better manage their energy consumption with minimal effort while also improving how the grid works.

California’s policymakers will play a key role in paving the way for a cost-effective clean energy transformation. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), for its part, just approved a first-of-its-kind statewide Integrated Resource Plan that lays out a pathway for dramatic emission reductions from the electric sector by 2030.

Another important policy action could be passing Senate Bill 100, which would commit California to reaching 100 percent clean electricity by 2045. This bill would improve health in communities statewide, create local jobs, and solidify California’s climate leadership at a time when it’s needed most.  This bill made significant progress through the legislature last year before stalling when a last-minute amendment was offered by the labor union representing utility workers that would create obstacles to California’s ability to use small-scale clean energy technologies—solar PV, storage, load-shifting devices— in meeting that 100 percent goal.

By extending reliance on the current centralized electricity system, the proposed amendment would mean higher costs for California ratepayers, stifle much-needed innovation in the operation of our electricity system, and limit opportunities for customers to be partners in supporting the grid and reduce their energy bills with solar and other energy technologies.  These new distributed energy technologies will not only help modernize the operation of the grid but will also make California a leader in growing the energy jobs of the future while also creating opportunities for utility employees to make the grid smarter and more reliable.

Reaching 100 percent clean electricity by 2045 is an achievable goal. But to make sure that clean energy future is cost-effective and resilient, we must not take important tools off the table. California’s clean energy transition should support clean technology innovation at large and small scales, while also creating good-paying jobs.  Our organizations are committed to working together with labor unions and others interested in helping state lawmakers in both houses make this legislation a landmark state policy.

Ed’s Note: Ed Smeloff is senior director of the non-profit California Policy and Regulatory Affairs at Vote Solar, which seeks greater use of solar energy. Laura Wisland is senior manager, Western States Energy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, which advocates for a healthy, safe and sustainable energy future.

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