On Monday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring state utilities to move to 100 percent zero-emission electricity generation by 2045. the state removes as much greenhouse gas from the atmosphere as it puts into the atmosphere.
California is the most populous state to agree to such aggressive decarbonization and only the second state to formalize such a pledge into legislation, after Hawaii. Although California has removed coal-fired power plants from its state-wide energy mix, it still relies primarily on natural gas for most of its electricity.
The bill was passed by the California Assembly and Senate in August. The votes were uncertain: Some Republicans and Democrats feared that such an ambitious goal would lead to higher energy costs for their voters.
The state will have to rely more heavily on wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric power to achieve its goal, as well as seek more ambitious battery expansions and create incentives for dramatic changes in energy efficiency at the industrial, commercial and residential levels. Nuclear power probably isn’t in the cards for the state for the foreseeable future: California recently moved to shut down its last nuclear plant of its aging fleet, though it recently passed a bill to replace that power plant’s capacity with renewables. California’s most recent law only states that electricity must be zero-emissions, so in theory the state could be able to implement a full carbon capture system at a natural gas plant, such as NET Power’s, which currently being tested in Texas.
One of the most interesting aspects of the zero-emissions bill signed today is that it also specifies that California cannot increase another state’s carbon emissions to get cheap electricity. It seems that buying electricity from a Nevada coal-fired power plant is fine if that electricity had been supplied before the bill was passed, but you wouldn’t be allowed to look for new natural gas-fired plants out of state to buy from.
The bill’s ambition is compounded by the executive order that Governor Brown signed today. The order requires California to become carbon neutral by 2045. “Achieving carbon neutrality requires both a significant reduction in carbon pollution and the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, including storage in forests, soils and other natural landscapes,” Brown’s executive order states (pdf).
Of course, executive orders are more flexible than legislation passed by two houses and signed by the governor, but Brown’s decision reflects the urgency in the face of climate change after a summer of record fires. Still, the order seeks to hedge against overly disruptive solutions to the economy, stating: “All policies and programs undertaken to achieve carbon neutrality should improve air quality and support the health and economic resilience of urban and rural communities, especially low-income and disadvantaged communities.”