“2030” Climate Goals Conference Highlights

Yesterday the California State Bar Environmental Law Section held a conference on greenhouse gas emissions reductions for “2030 and Beyond,” featuring top officials from state government.  Here are some highlights from the event:

The science of climate change: Jane Long of EDF painted a dire picture of how little time we have left to fight catastrophic climate change.  She noted the oceans have absorbed half our carbon emissions but that we need to take immediate action to decarbonize the electricity grid.  Interestingly, she spoke in favor of controversial carbon capture technologies and disparagingly of biofuels, due to their carbon footprint.

Politics of getting climate change legislation passed this term: former State Senate pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said that the slate of bills in the Senate related to 2030 goals should sail through that house.  But the real test of passage will be in the Assembly, where the Democratic caucus is split between “progressive” and “moderate/business-friendly” members.  August will likely be the time of action.  To grease the legislative wheels, lawmakers might include provisions allowing utilities to own electric vehicle charging infrastructure in order to get them to support a bargain.  They also might use cap-and-trade money guarantees to encourage recalcitrant members to vote to approve.  Ah, sausage-making.

Plunging solar and wind costs, with storage breakthroughs: California Public Utilities Commission president Michael Picker said we’re seeing really cheap prices on solar and wind.  To illustrate the point, he cited a new 300 megawatt solar installation about to break ground near Blythe that has no state subsidies or power purchase agreement.  Picker also noted that our rules are finally catching up to storage technology, with the Ice Bear technology that freezes water at night on cheap wind power for cooling buildings during the day finally being rewarded with a contract in Southern California, in part to offset the loss of nuclear power from the shuttered San Onofre plant.

Federal action on climate change: Amy Zimpfer from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency described the controversies over the proposed Clean Power Plan, which received an unprecedented 3.5 million comments, plus litigation just over the draft rule (also unusual).  She says the plan is “changing the dialogue” in many states, where energy regulators are meeting environmental regulators sometimes for the first time to discuss ways to coordinate.

Energy efficiency financing could get easier: Cisco DeVries from Renewable Funding thinks we may soon get past the federal regulatory hold-ups to the PACE (property assessed clean energy) financing program, which gives homeowners easy access to local government-provided capital for home energy upgrades.  PACE is already back up for some residential markets, and he hinted a compromise may be in the works to put the whole issue to bed in the coming months.

Utilities may soon enter the electric vehicle charging space in a big way: A panel I moderated on electric vehicles featured Randall Winston from the Governor’s Office, Alex Keros from GM, and Kevin Lee from eVgo.  All three speakers sounded open to the idea of utilities entering the charging market, provided (at least from Kevin’s point of view) that it’s structured to allow third parties like eVgo to have a role in the deployment.  Winston did not commit, given the ongoing regulatory and legislative proceedings, but said it’s an area of “huge interest” for the Governor’s Office.  Keros said GM is enthusiastic about utility involvement because “we need the scale of investment” to meet the projected 1.5 million electric vehicle charging needs by 2025.

Cap-and-trade and other state programs are going well: California EPA Secretary Matt Rodriquez said cap-and-trade implementation is going well in California, and it may be inspiring other states to follow suit.  For example, he was invited to speak to the Oregon Legislature recently to discuss the California program, a possible sign of future collaboration.  And lots of money will be coming from auctions, with over $600 million in allowances sold in the first of four auctions held this year.  So we could see $2 billion in revenue in 2015 to be used on efforts including high speed rail, weatherization programs, and affordable housing near transit. And to bring it full circle, opening speaker Ken Alex, director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, took stock of the progress we’ve made to date in state, citing in particular our relatively rapid deployment of electric vehicles and renewable energy.

Overall, the speakers covered a wealth of topics related to achieving 2030 goals, from the political, economic and engineering challenges to the race against time we face on the climate.  While the state has made a lot of progress, we’ll need to address these hurdles — often in legislative and regulatory forums — in order to continue our progress and accelerate it going forward.


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