Watch Out Climate Change: California is on a Roll

By Laurèn DeMates-

California has hit the ground running to address climate change with state policies and utilizing regional agreements. Since the agreement with China that we blogged about last month, California has made two other groundbreaking steps to address climate change: the adoption of an energy storage plan and a Pacific Coast climate action plan, both the first of their kind in the nation.

Energy Storage Plan

October 17th, 2013 regulators and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved the energy storage policy containing three guiding principles: optimization of the grid, integration of renewable energy, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. CPUC press release notes the policy is the outcome of AB 2514, which passed in 2010 mandating the CPUC to consider an energy storage plan. Press release also recognizes that this supports California’s goal of an 80% reduction in GHG emissions below 1990 levels by 2050. The plan has an energy storage target of 1,325 megawatts by 2020 for the state’s three utility companies (PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric). San Jose Mercury News reports that  innovation in emerging storage technologies, from batteries to flywheels is expected to be spurred. This is a very important step as the guiding principles reflect three challenges that utilities will increasingly face: how to better deal with the variation in electricity production in a system based on a delicate balance of input and output, how to integrate the use of renewables such as wind and solar into this system, and how to reduce GHGs in order to address climate change. Utilities are important actors to consider as states and nations address energy and climate change challenges. Evidence of this is seen in Germany who is leading the world in the use of renewables, but whose utility companies have been damaged in the process and are reporting huge losses. The Economist explores in depth how German utilities are struggling to stabilize and optimize the grid with the inclusion of renewables and shifting incentives. The energy storage plan can help California better adapt, but we can also learn more from Germany to further utilize and protect utilities in this changing environment.

Pacific Coast Climate Action Plan

October 28th, 2013 leaders from California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia signed the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy. Alaska is part of the Pacific Coast Collaborative group, but did not sign the plan. This call to action is a legitimate effort as many goals have tailored strategies, timelines, and targets. Overall, there are innovative actions packed into a two-page document that factors in signatories’ specific situations and is worth reading in its entirety. Action is organized under the following overarching goals: to lead national and international policy on climate change actions, focus on reducing GHGs through supporting the transition to clean transportation, and investing in clean energy and climate resilient infrastructure.

There are many essential areas where these jurisdictions will collaborate, but the most interesting aspects for me include the dedication to work with other national and sub-national governments to press for a 2015 international climate agreement, harmonization of 2050 GHG reduction targets with mid-term targets to be developed, support for high-speed rail across the region, and the integration of renewable energy grids. The focus on accounting for the cost of carbon pollution was also vital, although not yet a regional cap and trade program, California and British Columbia will maintain their existing programs with Oregon and Washington committing to move forward with similar policies (of course the outcome depending on state politics). Although the plan is not legally binding, not enforceable, and does not include funding expectations, it addresses specific issues and strategies. The plan reflects the ability of these groups to work together and agree to the extent to at least put a plan on paper. This sends a signal to Washington D.C. and to the rest of the world that we are moving forward one way or another to adapt and mitigate climate change and an international regional agreement is possible to facilitate discussion and take action.

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