Ambitious California Renewables Legislation Signed Into Law

Jerry Brown, California, clean energy, renewables, SB 350, Leon Kaye, climate change, energy efficiency, solar, wind power
The San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm, outside of Palm Springs, California.

It is said that California often leads the U.S. on policy, whether it is on tax rollbacks, car insurance reform and now, clean energy.

Gov. Jerry Brown already signed legislation during his first term that mandated California generate 33 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020. Following his landslide re-election, the septuagenarian governor has been on fire, from pushing the state to find new ways to conserve water to setting new climate change goals for California.

When Brown was one of the youngest governors in state history during the 1970s, his advocacy of solar power was considered so far out of the mainstream that his affinity for renewables contributed to his nickname, “Governor Moonbeam.” Now California’s oldest governor ever, his promotion of clean energy barely turns heads. Therefore, few took any notice when he signed Senate Bill 350, which aims to boost energy efficiency and renewables even further in the Golden State.

Signed during a ceremony this week at the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles, the law mandates that California produce 50 percent of its electricity from renewables such as solar and wind power by 2030. The law also requires a doubling of energy efficiency in buildings statewide by the same year. The bill was authored by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles.

As the COP21 talks in Paris draw even closer, S.B. 350 is an example of how local and regional governments can make a difference, even if next month’s climate conference will be held by national and international leaders.

Not all of California’s action on renewables and climate change is based on legislation, however. For example, last month the state’s Air Resources Board reenacted its controversial Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), which will require a 10 percent reduction in the carbon intensity of transport fuels by 2020.

Long supported by environmentalists but despised by energy companies, that regulation is in part behind why S.B. 350 was not passed in its original form. Earlier drafts of the legislation included language that would have required the state to slash its total petroleum use by 50 percent by 2030. Some state lawmakers and energy lobbyists raised objections to that provision, so the bill’s authors removed that segment from the final bill.

Although many environmental organizations praised the bill’s passage, the removal of the petroleum consumption section has proven to be a sore point. The Natural Resources Defense Council, for example, called the California legislature’s refusal to confront the oil industry’s “fearmongering [sic]” as “deplorable,” but lauded the legislation’s goals despite what the organization described as the energy companies’ “smokescreen.”

Gov. Brown’s political opponents attacked what they described as the future consequences of this legislation. Senate Republican Leader Jean Fuller of Bakersfield, claiming that S.B. 350 would lead to higher utility bills and job losses for California’s families, said in a written statement: “Senate Republicans share the goal of clean air and reduced emissions in California. But we have to get there in a way that is still affordable for California families and small businesses.”

Considering the state’s political tilt and Brown’s determination to press on with his agenda as he will most likely retire from public life after leaving office in 2019, it is clear that while he may not leave office popular, his second governorship will be far more consequential than many had imagined after his 2010 election.

Image credit: Kit Conn via Wikimedia Commons

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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