If there’s one thing Thursday made clear, it’s that climate policy and controversy go hand in hand in California.
Depending on whom you ask, the two major actions state regulators took Thursday are either indicative of California “leading the world’s most significant economic transformation since the Industrial Revolution” (as Gov. Gavin Newsom put it) or represent “a complete retreat from California’s unrivaled position of leadership in the clean energy revolution” (as Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, described the state’s new rooftop solar rules).
What are those new rules? In the final installment of what some have described as “a kind of solar rooftop Hunger Games,” the California Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously to overhaul the state’s 27-year-old residential solar rules — reducing payments to homeowners for excess power but providing nearly $1 billion in incentives to encourage more solar projects for low-income homes, CalMatters’ Julie Cart reports.
Almost all of the comments delivered during the intense, hours-long meeting were in opposition — and neither utility companies nor solar advocates emerged happy.
- Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for Affordable Clean Energy for All, a coalition that includes California’s three largest utility companies: “This final decision was a missed opportunity that will prolong the harm to low-income Californians and renters for decades to come.”
- Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar & Storage Association: The new rules “will result in business closures and the loss of green jobs.”
- Public Utilities Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen: “The decision strikes the right balance between many competing priorities and advances our overarching goals of ensuring California meets its climate and clean energy goals equitably.”
The divisive vote comes as California races to shore up its fragile energy grid — which narrowly escaped rolling blackouts this summer and remains at high risk of energy shortfalls during peak demand, according to a Thursday report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation — while simultaneously relying more on solar power as part of its plan for achieving carbon neutrality.
Just how fast will that transition be? Well, the sweeping, ambitious blueprint approved unanimously by the California Air Resources Board calls for slashing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 48% below 1990 levels by 2030, up from the 40% reduction currently required by state law.
To meet the plan’s targets, state officials estimate that California over the next 20 years will need about 30 times more electric vehicles, six times more household electric appliances and four times more wind and solar generation capacity, CalMatters’ Nadia Lopez reports. The estimated cost: $18 billion in 2035 and $27 billion in 2045.
- Air Resources Board Member Daniel Sperling: “This is an extraordinary exercise and document, and it’s the most comprehensive, detailed plan for getting to net zero anywhere in the world.”
- But many members of the public who spoke during the eight-hour meeting opposed the plan’s reliance on carbon capture, a controversial strategy to capture emissions from oil refineries and other facilities and inject the carbon deep into rocks underground. Critics say that approach merely prolongs the lifespan of fossil fuel plants.
- Olivia Seideman, a climate policy advocate at Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability: “California’s shiny new climate strategies still sacrifice low-income and communities of color with increased pollution across the state.”
A few other climate nuggets of interest:
- In the latest indication that California will likely spend a fourth straight year mired in drought, the state is launching a $25 million pilot program to pay farmers who fallow their land or limit groundwater pumping in vulnerable communities that rely on wells for drinking water. Its partners on the project include the Almond Alliance of California, the Western United Dairies Foundation, Self-Help Enterprises and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, according to the Modesto Bee.
- Today, California tribes and environmental groups are set to file a federal complaint urging regulators to investigate “the State Water Resources Board’s discriminatory water management policies and practices in the Bay-Delta,” the critical water hub where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers meet to flow out into the San Francisco Bay. The groups also want the feds to revamp water quality standards for the Bay-Delta. They filed a similar petition to the state water board in May, which they said the board “largely ignored.”