As California Governor Jerry Brown enters his last year in office before ceding the reins under term limits, his final State of the State address points to the environmental legacy he hopes to leave behind.
“Whether it’s roads or trains or dams or renewable energy installations or zero-emission cars, California is setting the pace for the entire nation,” Brown said during his 16th State of the State speech. “Yes, there are critics, there are lawsuits and there are countless obstacles. But California was built on dreams and perseverance and the bolder path is still our way forward.”
Here is a look at the policies that have affected — and will likely continue to affect — commercial and industrial energy users in California:
Cap and Trade
In July 2017, Brown signed Assembly Bill 398 into law, extending the state’s cap and trade program through 2030. During his speech this week, Brown highlighted the program, calling it the nation’s only functioning cap-and-trade system.
“A symbolic victory for Governor Brown was the cap and trade extension that happened last year in the legislature,” Amisha Rai, senior director of California policy at the national trade association Advanced Energy Economy told Environmental Leader in an interview. “If you’re an industrial customer or a commercial leader in the state, you have the ability to reduce your overall emissions at a bearable cost.”
The program was applauded by advanced energy leaders and traditional industrial businesses alike, Rai says. “You had both sides working on cap and trade and the environmental community as well, knowing that if we pull together the right model in California, others will follow.”
California has linked its cap and trade program to Quebec’s, and Brown indicated he wants to merge the program with China’s as soon as that one is developed.
In 2015, California passed SB-350, also known as the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act. The bill called for the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to increase incrementally, reaching 50% by 2030. A report last fall from the California Public Utilities Commission found that major utilities are on track to meet or exceed the state’s renewable energy targets for 2020.
The RPS helped drive down the price of renewable electricity, the NRDC’s western energy project director Peter Miller pointed out last fall in a blog post. “Between 2008 and 2016, the price utilities paid for solar energy dropped 77%,” he wrote. “In a similar time period, the prices of wind contracts reported to the CPUC have gone down 47%.”
Governor Brown’s leadership has brought California to the forefront of energy innovation, Lauren Navarro, the Environmental Defense Fund’s senior policy manager for California clean energy said publicly in response to his recent speech. “With ambitious goals to catapult clean energy and to create a western regional grid during his last year in office, his legacy will live on through a cleaner energy system, cleaner air, and a strong economy.”
During his speech, Brown said that the state has led the way on building and appliance efficiency standards. In addition to renewables, SB-350 emphasized energy efficiency, particularly in the built environment, AEE’s Amisha Rai points out.
“When you’re looking at existing buildings and even new buildings, this will make a huge impact,” she says. “SB-350 will have led to a lot of energy efficiency retrofits in the industrial and commercial sector moving forward.”
Despite the push for renewables and zero-emissions vehicles, oil production continues going strong in California. In December, the oil and gas producer Aera Energy announced plans with solar energy supplier GlassPoint Solar to build the state’s largest solar energy project — at the Belridge oilfield west of Bakersfield. Some onlookers wondered at using solar for oil production, which creates petroleum coke as a byproduct.
Production at the site peaked at 160,000 barrels per day in 1986, and in December was still doing 76,000 BPD, Christopher Helman reported in Forbes. Aera Energy CEO Christina Sistrunk told Helman last month that she thought Belridge could keep that rate going for the next 20 years. The reporter pointed out that switching from using natural gas to solar power for their operations, while not necessarily an economically advantageous decision, “looks good.”
In a Los Angeles Times op-ed last December, Jacques Leslie criticized Jerry Brown for allowing oil producers to continue oil drilling in the state and suggested that he should instruct state regulators to stop approving new wells.
“Brown argues that as long as the state sharply cuts its oil dependency, as his policies prescribe, oil supply and extraction will simply fall away,” he wrote. “But balancing state demand against production ignores the realities of the market, in which demand for oil in other parts of the world remains high.”
Brown has about 12 more months in office.
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