Gov. Brown Signs 100% Clean Energy Bill

Logo from the coalition supporting the passage of SB100,
Logo from the coalition supporting the passage of SB100,

Earlier this month, Governor Brown signed a plan to bring 100 percent clean grid electricity to California by 2045. State Senator Kevin de Leon, who is running against Dianne Feinstein for U.S. Senate, was SB 100’s principal author and chief advocate.

SB100 was one of the biggest climate bills advocates had rallied around during the 2017-2018 session. The bill will set “the nation’s strongest clean energy goals under legislation,” according to the LA Times, (although Hawaii had already passed comparable legislation) and California’s “boldest energy target yet,” according to David Roberts at Vox.

In a nutshell, SB 100 does two things:
1. It accelerates the requirements of the state’s primary renewable energy program—the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS)—from 50 percent to 60 percent by 2030.
2. It establishes a new policy that 100 percent of the electricity produced to meet end-uses comes from zero-carbon resources by 2045. “Zero-carbon” includes renewables (along with “baseload” renewables like geothermal and some biomass), large hydro, nuclear power, or natural gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The 100 percent target is important. We know that the world needs to transition off of fossil fuels (and start drawing down atmospheric carbon) immediately. That means, in part, ending the use of certain types of technologies, such as fossil fuel electricity generation, gas and diesel powered vehicles, and gas-powered home heating and cooking, as soon as possible, preferably well before mid-century. Yet, policy in the past has focused on gradual, aggregate emissions cuts that seem to leave a certain amount of wiggle room on new fossil
fuel infrastructure.

At the beginning of the session, some thought SB 100 would pass easily, particularly given that the state legislature had a Democratic supermajority. A broad coalition including local elected officials (shout out to Eureka City Councilmember Austin Allison!), labor, faith, business, political clubs, environmental justice, environmental, climate action, community, student, health, and industry groups rallied around it.

However, passing SB 100 proved difficult. The bill was approved by the State Senate in May of 2017, but became mired in the Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee, where it was stalled from late 2017 to July 2018. There were concerns that it would be amended to weaken it or tie it to some more controversial policy, such as grid regionalization. There were rumors that bill had died completely.

However, the grassroots push for SB 100 continued. A coalition of advocates made weekly calls to check in on news and strategy. Advocates held in-district meetings with representatives, media campaigns, tabling events, and calling campaigns, and talked to offices of every single assemblymember. By the time of its passing, SB 100 had a whopping 21 coauthors.

Despite all this, the day of the assembly floor vote was a nail-biter, taking three votes to pass with 43 yesses.

What’s next? The hope is that other states will be inspired to follow California’s lead and decarbonize their electrical grids. However, although this is a big win, decarbonizing electrical grids is not enough to adequately deal with our climate crisis. For example, electricity only contributes 16 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions.
On the day he signed SB 100, Governor Brown also released an executive order (EO B-55-18) directing the state to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 and net negative greenhouse-gas emissions after that. In order to do this, home heating and transportation will have to be electrified (while also stopping any new fossil fuel infrastructure, reducing emissions in areas like waste and industry, using land more wisely, sequestering atmospheric carbon through things like afforestation, contributing to social justice and equity, etc.).

Two bills were also introduced this session that dealt with building decarbonization (SB 1477 and AB 3232) which passed and have been signed by the Governor.