The 100 Percent Clean Energy Act of 2017 (SB-100) was signed this month by Governor Jerry Brown after it passed in the assembly with 43 votes in favor and 32 against. Surprisingly, in the fallout of California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, which finds that almost two-thirds of the state’s beaches and water supply may disappear, there is still opposition to the legislation.
Debate surrounding California’s controversial senate bill could be the straw that broke the camels back, in a good way. Introduced to the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee back in May 2017 by California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León, the bill is exciting and ambitious. Under the changes it stipulates, California will begin its journey toward 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.
“California would really become a shining state in terms of creating a real example for the rest of the country to look toward for creating an alternative to fossil fuels and having a healthy, growing economy,” said Dan Jacobson, state director for Environment California and supporter of the bill.
The legislation is part of a shift in California, which has already seen SB-350, The Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act, and SB-32, The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2016, two bills that aim to double energy efficiency, implement wide-scale transportation electrification, and meet state-wide renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions targets.
Opponents to the legislation refer to the incredible cost and the potential for short- to medium-term increases in greenhouse gas emissions. They point to countries like Denmark, Australia, Spain, and Germany, which saw electricity prices increase after growing their total share of domestic energy production from renewable sources. Costs are commonly associated with construction of new infrastructure for renewable power projects, changes to the grid, and disuse of cheaper alternatives like fossil fuels.
Furthermore, the variability of renewable electricity like wind and solar power, as well as the mismatch between peak hours of production and peak hours of demand, requires that fossil fuel based plants be on standby to meet the difference. In Germany, this resulted in greater imports of foreign-produced electricity from neighbors like France.
Responding to opposition, others insist that a shift toward green policies and investments is not only beneficial for the environment but also for the bottom line. Combating climate change is a “profitable investment opportunity,” according to the chief executive of Canada’s 2nd largest pension fund, Michael Sabia. In light of the projection that the world’s infrastructure is estimated to double in less than two decades, while carbon emissions must decrease 30 per cent to counteract global warming, he advised experts and officials that we must do something “radically different, and we have to do it fast.”
As with any new investment, there will be costs associated with developing new infrastructure to promote and support a green economy. Rather than ignoring economics and refusing to invest in new technologies, Sabia says that green investments are paramount to increasing long-term returns. “Capitalists need to stop seeing climate change as a risk and see it for the investment opportunity that it is,” he says.
Kevin de León, who sponsored SB-100, SB-350, and SB-32, supports this claim, saying that “California’s experience over the last decade offers hard evidence that we can dramatically expand clean energy while also growing our economy and putting people to work.” Policy changes in California, which is the most populated state in the United States and the world’s fifth largest economy, have the potential to spark renewed and necessary conversations about our solutions to climate change.
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