Monday, March 30, 2015

California Doubles Down on Renewable Energy

     According to this article California’s fourth term Governor, Jerry Brown has proposed to spend 59 billion dollars to fix infrastructure and raise the state’s renewable energy mandate to 50 percent by 2030. It is believed that his proposal will reboot California’s industrial-scale solar and wind industries and create another land grab in the Mojave Desert.
This isn’t the first time the Governor has set a benchmark for the state. Back in 2011 Governor Brown signed a law that would mandate 33 percent of the state’s energy be renewable by 2020. Since that time the state is not only on track to meeting that goal but will likely surpass it. Being on track of achieving the original goal has been a blessing and a curse for California.
     The good thing about achieving the goal is it led the country by example, showing large scale radical environmental policy can create long lasting change in energy use. The bad part about being on target to achieve the goal is the utility companies have lost interest in signing new contracts with large scale renewable energy firms, because there was no incentive to do so. Therefore many clean-energy developers don’t have the financing for large-scale projects. The clean-energy industry hope for the new benchmark is that it will renew interest in utility companies to contract large scale renewable energy developers.
There are several challenges associated with the new 50 percent standard. One is how the Governor will bring the 50 percent standard into law. Govern Brown could issue an executive order or ask the Legislature to craft a bill that will be likely to pass with the liberal state Senate. The other challenge is the limitation of renewable energy. Renewable energy is intermittent and the supply does not always meet the demand, therefore companies must find a way to balance and integrate renewable energy with non-renewable. Another challenge is the land use these large scale clean-energy companies will take up in the Mojave Desert.
     The Obama administration has set aside 22 million acres in California as Federal land for renewable energy endeavors. However, some of the construction that will take place on that land might negatively affect ecosystems and ancestral homelands of the Colorado River Indian Tribes. Last year the Colorado River Indian Tribes filed a lawsuit to stop construction of a solar energy plant that will span 4,000 acres in the Mojave Desert. In the lawsuit the Tribes claim the U.S Bureau of Land Management environmental impact statement for the project failed to take into account the damage that would incur to the ecosystem, culture, groundwater and the Colorado River.
     Even though there are many challenges setting the new standard, it is exciting to see a politician take such a bold stance on renewable energy. This article, showed how the environment, economics, law, and policy are interconnected and all must be taken into account when trying to bring long lasting change. The article also helped me to understand how economic incentives and policy can have an impact on the environment.
The article spoke of the utility companies that stopped contracting clean-energy developers once the incentive was gone. Because there was no push on businesses through economics or policy, progress in renewable energy became stagnant. However, while the incentive was there California achieved an environmental goal many thought couldn’t be accomplished, especially within a short 10 year period. This article has shown me that true environmental change has to start with changes in policy: if not businesses and individuals will be more inclined to do what is economically beneficial.
--Amanda Akins

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