GUEST JUICE: Renewing CA’s Renewable Energy Vow

By Published On: January 17, 2014

By Peter Miller California’s 33 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard is one of the world’s most ambitious renewable energy programs. We have much to celebrate but greater challenges as well as opportunities lay ahead. By 2020, fully one-third of California’s electricity sales must come from renewable sources like solar and wind. Hitting that goal will create enough clean energy to power nearly 9 million homes—an immense achievement as California continues to chart a clean energy future. The doubters said it couldn’t be done—that utilities would never be able to reach significant Renewable Portfolio Standard targets. But the California Public Utilities Commission has determined that the three largest investor-owned utilities already have met the 20 percent standard and are on track to meet the goal of generating 33 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable energy resources. Last year, nearly 3,000 MWs of new renewable energy capacity came on line to serve California’s electricity needs. Given the long lead times for new energy infrastructure, it makes sense to begin to look beyond 2020. That is the date by which California must reduce its carbon emissions to 1990 levels under the AB 32 Global Warming Solutions Act. We should consider how we can generate more electricity from clean, renewable energy resources in the future and how we can cut emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. As a recent study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed, our long-term climate goals are achievable, though they will require sustained effort for decades, including continued investment in new renewable and low-carbon energy resources. The California Legislature’s adoption of renewable energy benchmarks and timetables was essential to the enormous progress we celebrate today. California's energy agencies also have made significant strides in improving their practices, driven by the sometimes-competing imperatives of reliability, affordability, and environmental performance. Most importantly, improved consideration of all the options available to meet our energy needs can increase the state's ability to achieve all three objectives simultaneously through investments in energy efficiency—doing more work with less energy. Over the long-term, our objective should be a framework that supports investment in a balanced portfolio of low- and zero-carbon resources such as wind, solar and low-impact hydroelectric power without benchmarks and timetables specifically targeted to particular energy sources. Both the economy and environment benefit when markets compete to meet rigorous cost and performance standards established to achieve societal goals. We have already made substantial progress toward the goal of an integrated procurement framework. A renewables benchmark higher than 33 percent for 2025 or 2030 should advance this progress by incorporating increased flexibility and continued development of regulatory and market mechanisms that support competitive procurement of high-value, low-carbon resources. The best way to get to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions should be based on both the cost and environmental performance of future technologies. We don’t know, for example, if solar/wind paired with storage and demand response will be a better choice than carbon emissions capture and storage in 2050 and we shouldn’t try to specify the outcome now. We should continue to use a portfolio of policies and programs to achieve our long-term climate goals. That includes programs targeted at both local, on-site “distributed” generation and utility-scale clean energy projects. Programs like the renewable auction mechanism should be improved and expanded. A next- generation net energy metering program should be developed based on the requirements of AB 327 to establish a fair and sustainable regulatory framework for distributed solar generation that accounts for the value to the grid as well as for the customer’s cost of grid services. The Natural Resources Defense Council has offered an approach that is based on a variable demand charge, but we’re open to other options. Our goal is to encourage the cleanest, most energy efficient and affordable electric system possible. We need to improve our ability to integrate renewable energy resources into our electricity grid. This will require new and improved planning approaches, operational strategies, and market mechanisms at local and regional levels.  Perhaps the most promising opportunity lies in using energy efficiency, storage, and demand response to reshape the load curve. Greater regional coordination can also help integrate and balance renewable resources through the development of a balanced portfolio of resources with diverse characteristics. This will help lower costs and increase reliability. More broadly, development of a more coordinated and efficient electricity market is key to making long-term emissions reductions across the western region of the country. As California increases its use of wind, solar and geothermal resources, the responsible siting of those projects becomes even more important. Local, state and federal agencies have made meaningful progress in coordination and long-term planning of siting to minimize land-use conflicts, such as the development of renewable energy zones that focus development in low-impact areas and lower transmission costs. It is imperative that these efforts continue and succeed. Finally, transmission should be planned and developed to facilitate the optimal blend of both in-state and region-wide renewable energy resources. We believe that the best path forward is transmission that offers multiple benefits to the grid—minimizing total costs, improving access to pumped hydroelectric storage, opening new areas such as the Central Valley, providing access to low-cost renewable generation from across the West, and providing geographic diversity so that resources can be backed up by renewable energy from elsewhere. —Peter Miller is a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. A version of this post originally appeared on NRDC’s Switchboard. Edited By:

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