In summary

To achieve Newsom’s ambitious vision of a carbon-free future, California needs to start now, because we are not on pace.

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By Danielle Osborn Mills, Special to CalMatters

Danielle Osborn Mills is director of American Clean Power – California.

As Gov. Gavin Newsom prepares to share California’s climate progress (which he now plans to do virtually) with world leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference, he has been making high-profile announcements about California’s commitment to a greener, more sustainable economy – from phasing out fossil fuels and banning gas-powered cars to defending coastal communities from rising sea-levels.

All these accomplishments, though, overlook one important thing: There is only one way our state is going to transition to a clean, green economy while keeping the lights on, energy costs reasonable and ensuring tens of thousands of skilled energy workers have access to reliable, well-paying jobs. California needs more clean power, in vast new quantities.

To achieve the governor’s ambitious vision of a carbon-free future, with everything from cars and home appliances plugged into a clean-power grid, we need to start now. But the hard truth is we are not on pace.

While the utility-scale clean-energy industry currently provides roughly one-third of California’s power supply, shifting to 100% clean power will require the state to triple its current rate of solar and wind development over the next decade – and accelerate energy storage deployment by a factor of eight. 

This spring’s SB 100 report was a wakeup call about our prospects for achieving these targets: The state’s energy agencies are projecting that the state will need to build roughly 6 gigawatts of renewable and storage resources every year for the next 25 years to produce enough clean power to serve California’s energy needs. But over the last decade, the state’s current planning, procurement and permitting systems have only allowed us to build an average of 1.3 gigawatts of solar and wind per year. 

That’s clearly not enough. It’s a big reason why the California Public Utilities Commission took action this summer to jumpstart renewable energy procurement to “historic” new levels – requiring utilities to purchase 11.5 gigawatts of renewable energy between 2023 and 2026. The governor also signed important legislation that will include offshore wind as part of the state’s clean power portfolio.

Setting big goals is one thing, and few do it better than California. But as the Wall Street Journal recently showed in uncomfortable detail, moving from vision to reality is another thing entirely. The looming departures of two of the state’s top energy leaders – the CPUC president and its energy division director – could make the state’s clean energy transition even more complicated. 

All of this presents a unique opportunity for the governor to take the reins and to lead from the top. California’s clean power industry recently shared a letter with the governor outlining several immediate steps he and his agencies can take to put the state back on track to achieving its climate goals – from expediting clean energy approvals and upgrading aging transmission infrastructure to moving forward with lease auctions to build out the West Coast’s first offshore wind industry. This will require focused and intentional leadership from the Public Utilities Commission

Newsom must act quickly, as soon as the Glasgow conference ends, to recognize that he can’t afford to overlook these issues any longer. If he wants to achieve anything on his list of climate priorities, he must find a way to put clean energy back at the top.

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