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| 10/15/15

States’ ambitious renewable energy targets


Proponents of ambitious renewable energy targets gained another stronghold last week with the signing of a new law by California Governor Jerry Brown that requires utilities in the state to purchase 50 per cent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The law also demands that energy efficiency in buildings increase by 50 per cent by the same year.

The only US state more ambitious in its planning is Hawaii, which passed legislation in April requiring 100 percent of its electricity generation to be from renewable energy sources by 2045. The bill is yet to be signed into law.

California’s new law is an important step in the state’s landmark plan to cut greenhouse-gas (GHG) pollution and develop renewable energy.  The legislation originally included a component that would have reduced petroleum consumption in cars and trucks by 50 per cent in the next 15 years. That portion of the law was removed after oil companies launched a fierce attack against the bill.

California already has some of the world’s toughest air-quality standards, and pledged in 2006 to generate one third of its electricity from renewables by 2020. Regulators say the state achieved 25 per cent renewable electricity last year as huge solar and wind farms came online.

It’s unclear how California intends to meet the new goal, but the state’s utilities support the measure. They mainly use natural gas, nuclear energy and some coal, but renewable energy sources continue to grow, and regulators are expected to allow the utilities to pass some costs of the transition on to customers.

California has the third-lowest emissions per capita of the 50 states. But its percentage of renewable electricity pales in comparison to some Canadian provinces, thanks to Canada’s abundant hydro resources. British Columbia’s Clean Energy Act, for instance, came into force in 2010 and requires that least 93 per cent of all electricity generated in the province come from renewable energy sources and that BC achieve electricity self-sufficiency by 2016.

However, BC’s Clean Energy Act was amended in 2012 to include natural gas as a “clean” energy source when used to power liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities despite the GHGs emitted during this process. The California legislation does not include natural gas in its portfolio of clean energy sources.

Meanwhile the next step in BC’s climate action path should soon become apparent. BC’s policy-makers who are grappling with the challenge of meeting provincial GHG reduction targets alongside the development of an fledgling LNG industry, will soon receive the advice of its appointed Climate Leadership Team, comprising leaders from the business, First Nations, academic and environmental communities and local government. The team is due to present its recommendations to government at the end of this month with the details becoming publicly available later.

In depth

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