The California Legislature passed SB 350 requiring utilities to procure at least 50 percent of their electricity from eligible renewable energy sources such as wind and solar by 2030.
This legislation, which is expected to be signed into law later this month by Governor Jerry Brown, is a historic step in the state’s groundbreaking plan to cut climate-warming pollution, and ranks among the most significant environmental bills in California history.
Getting to 50 percent renewables
SB350, extends the current renewables portfolio standard program (RPS) which requires utilities and other electricity providers to meet a standard of 33 percent of electricity generated from renewable resources by 2020. The legislation includes interim targets for 2024 and 2027, and adopts modifications intended to ensure the program results in significant investment in additional renewable resources while remaining affordable for utility customers.
Building on progress
The RPS is a cornerstone of California’s leadership effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
The current RPS program, passed by the legislature in 2011, is widely considered to be an unmitigated success. Despite concerns that the 33 percent requirement was infeasible and too expensive, the Public Utilities Commission reports that utilities are currently on track to meet and in some cases significantly exceed the program’s mandate – AND at lower cost than expected. Replacing fossil fuels with clean energy sources like wind and solar to generate electricity reduces pollution, helps protect public health, creates clean energy jobs, and increases energy security. Multiple studies have concluded that meeting a 50 percent renewables requirement by 2030 is achievable and will improve air quality as well as reduce climate-warming pollution.
The RPS program has helped lead to dramatic reductions in the costs of renewable energy, which in many cases are now cost-competitive with fossil fuels. For example, the cost of contracts to buy electricity generated from large solar photovoltaic (PV) farms have declined by 62 percent on average since 2007.
SB 350 was introduced in response to a set of ambitious environmental proposals by Governor Brown in his fourth inagural address this past January. Along with the 50 percent renewable requirement, SB 350 also includes a requirement that the statedouble energy efficiency savings by 2030 and changed the core mission of the electric industry to help displace petroleum as the dominant transportation fuel. The enormous collective benefits of the renewable energy, energy efficiency, and transportation electrification provisions means that SB 350 ranks among the most significant environmental bills ever. NRDC estimates that this legislation will reduce total California electricity sector emissions by 38% in 2030, compared to 2020 levels.
The 50 percent renewables target enjoys wide support among the state’s residents. A recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that 82 percent of the state’s residents favored the bill’s renewable energy target.