California's Clean Energy Legislation Will Also Help Reduce Oil Consumption

September 28, 2015 | 12:45 pm
Laura Wisland
Former Contributor

Much has been written about the controversial petroleum reduction target taken out of Senate Bill 350, but news coverage overlooked what California gained through the legislation passed this September. Thanks to new standards approved by the Legislature, California will generate half of its electricity from renewable sources and double the energy efficiency of buildings in the next 15 years—critical strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Photo: Håkan Dahlström

Photo: Håkan Dahlström

The significance of these clean energy standards should not be underestimated. While the oil industry blocked the proposal to cut the state’s oil consumption in half by 2030, SB 350 will make meaningful reductions in California’s use of petroleum by naming vehicle electrification as a key strategy for reducing air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. Electrifying large numbers of light-duty vehicles will reduce oil consumption and carbon pollution.

California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS), which up to now has required the state to generate 33 percent of its electricity from sources such as wind and solar, has developed the largest clean energy sector in the nation. Boosting the standard to 50 percent will attract even more investments, and by 2030 the electricity generated by California’s RPS will account for over a third of all the renewable energy generated by state standards across the country.

Almost unimaginable a decade ago, transitioning to cleaner electricity sources has happened faster than expected. More renewables on the grid has become an easier choice as the cost of wind and solar have declined dramatically over time and our understanding of how to operate a more flexible grid has advanced. In fact, modeling conducted by UCS shows that California can generate half of our electricity from renewable sources even earlier than 2030 with the technology we have in place now. Showing other states that we have the technical and political will to rely on cleaner sources of energy will encourage other states to follow in our footsteps.

Also, SB 350 will double energy savings in California’s buildings, the largest commitment by any state. Studies show that energy efficiency—using less electricity and natural gas—is the most affordable way to reduce global warming emissions in our electricity sector.

As someone who worked hard on demonstrating to legislators that these goals were possible, I am proud of the bipartisan effort that went into passing SB 350’s clean energy standards. Significantly, the five largest utilities in the state—which account for more than 80 percent of the electricity load in California—supported the bill. These utilities are the nation’s leaders when it comes to providing cleaner electricity to customers while ensuring reasonable electricity rates and grid reliability.

The widespread support for building California’s clean-energy future may not have attracted as much attention as the bitter fight to set a petroleum reduction target, but it is a story worth telling.