Opinion: Something to cheer about: California RES leads nation

California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed historic legislation confirming California’s status as the nation’s leader in renewable energy. The measure requires power producers throughout the state to  acquire one-third of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.

By raising its Renewable Portfolio Standard from 20 percent to 33 percent, the state is spurring development of this vital, emerging sector of the 21st century’s economy that is providing Californians with more jobs each year.

More importantly, the Golden State is taking a giant step forward in nurturing the rise of alternative energy needed to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Innovation and environmental protection have long been two of California’s calling cards. The new target for renewable energy capitalizes on that legacy.

The significance of this new law should not be missed. The clean tech industry is exploding in California, providing more than 500,000 jobs and attracting six times more venture capital to this state — nearly $10 billion last year — than any other state in the country. In fact, California is home to 12,000 clean tech companies and seven of the nation’s top 10 companies in that industry.

That growth is largely due to an earlier state law that set the previous renewable energy target at 20 percent by 2010. Critics said the standard was too high, and would be too costly, to meet. But, that has not proved to be the case.

The state’s major utilities are closing in on that goal. Last year, the state’s largest public utility, Pacific Gas & Electric received 17.7 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and for Southern California Edison, that figure was 19.4 percent. Both expect to cross the 20 percent threshold any day.

When we read about so much in the world going wrong, it’s comforting to be reminded that California continues to be a trendsetter that is pioneering the future and finding ways to tackle problems that confound Washington and governments everywhere.

Congressional efforts to follow California’s footsteps on renewable energy have so far failed. U.S. Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Mark Udall of Colorado are pushing legislation mandating that utilities generate 25 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025. Even if it did become law, the Udalls’ measure would still fall short of California’s standards.

California is demonstrating, yet again, that ambitious goals for improving air quality and generating jobs at the same time can be set and met. While partisanship in the energy debate reigns in Washington, the Golden sate’s legislation won bipartisan backing — just as the lopsided rejection last November of an attempt to kill the state’s pioneering law to limit carbon emissions. It’s no mystery why; increasing renewable energy creates jobs, protects public health and the environment and bolsters our national security by reducing dependence on foreign oil. Those are not partisan issues.

Much has been made of China’s rush into developing clean energy. If we want to remain competitive, we must stay at the forefront of developing cutting-edge and cost-competitive solar and energy efficient technologies. Washington’s policymakers should take note.

For decades, we’ve known the dangers of relying on fossil fuels. They are finite. They pollute the air. They are increasingly challenging and risky to find and pull out of the ground. Nothing illustrates that  better than BP’s devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year.

And gasoline prices are steadily rising and inflating the costs of everything from food to airline tickets. We can no longer ignore the down side of basing our entire economy on fossil fuels — for the environment, public health and our pocketbooks.

Ramping up the renewable energy standards is one part of the solution. Driving the growth of the clean energy industry is already paying huge dividends for our economy.

In the Silicon Valley, we know what innovation, foresight and progressive public policy can do — they can change the world. The higher renewable standards, combined with the ingenuity of the researchers and entrepreneurs who race to meet them, will help California — and the nation – do just that.
Now it’s time for America to follow.

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