How California can remove obstacles holding back a clean energy future

Governor Gavin Newsom and the Legislature must act urgently in a transparent, thoughtful, and collaborative manner to accelerate California’s drive to decarbonize our homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Red tape has become an unwitting accomplice to climate change.

Too often, the clean energy projects needed to end our dependence on carbon and protect our environment become bogged down by permits and legal quagmires.

This must end.

This week, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed several bills to streamline infrastructure from a set of measures he proposed in May to speed up water, transportation and clean energy projects by overhauling the state’s onerous permitting processes and California’s Environmental Quality Act. By presenting his measures as budget trailer bills, Newsom drew criticism from environmental organizations and lawmakers who argued he was abusing the budget process.

The signing ceremony for the law ended a period of turmoil between the administration and the legislature that has so far passed only five of the 11 proposed measures for the governor. But any lingering hostility must be set aside because there is so much work still to be done and there is no time to lose.

California needs to add more clean, renewable energy to our grid ASAP. Newsom and the legislature must act urgently in a transparent, thoughtful, and collaborative manner to accelerate California’s drive to decarbonize our homes and businesses.

California is an economic powerhouse, but its electrical network is its Achilles’ heel.

After two consecutive August 2020 days of power outages across the state, Forbes reported that the outage “exposed the fragility of one of North America’s most expensive and least reliable electrical grids.” The 10-day “heat dome” in September 2022 put Californians within a hair’s reach of more power outages.

California energy officials are “cautiously optimistic” that the ample water supply in the state’s reservoirs due to this winter’s historic snowpack will generate enough hydropower to help avoid dangerous blackouts this summer. But weather forecasters are expecting an El Niño pattern this year, a severe weather card that can cause extreme heat waves and once again test the resilience of our electrical grid.

California now has 35 gigawatts of clean electricity to help power the grid but needs an additional 148 gigawatts by 2045 to meet the clean energy mandate set by the 2018 Act, Senate Bill 100. With a variety of renewables, increasing clean energy coordination With neighboring countries building demand, flexible storage and transportation, a cleaner and more reliable network is within our reach.

A report released in 2022 by GridLab and Telos Energy found that California could reach 85% clean energy by 2030 without compromising reliability, even “under stressful conditions.”

California has set a goal to generate up to 25 gigawatts of clean, renewable energy from offshore wind development by 2045. The legislature is also considering several clean energy bills, including wave and geothermal development measures, and the placement of solar panels along the road system California’s broadband and clean energy procurement guarantee to promote offshore wind development.

But once a clean energy bill is signed into law, there are a host of bureaucratic and legal hurdles to overcome.

The Environmental Coordinating and Review Agency’s clean energy project clearances, as well as adopting a unified approach to prioritizing transmission development and addressing local land use constraints, are other steps the governor and legislature can take to reduce delays in clean energy development and transmission.

California’s transition to a carbon-neutral economy will bring many benefits, including climate mitigation, improved air quality and health outcomes for disadvantaged communities, and the development of new technologies that support one of the world’s largest economies.

But to reshape our energy future, we first need to reshape our thinking with the sense of urgency and creativity needed to take action before it’s too late.

Thierry Tamaminen is President and CEO of AltaSea. He served as Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He wrote this for CalMatters.

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