California risks costly switch to clean power as goals overlap -experts

Published 20:46 on July 12, 2015  /  Last updated at 02:16 on July 13, 2015  /  Americas, US  /  No Comments

Overlapping policies could mean California ends up paying over the odds in its switch to cleaner energy without more thought on how the US state’s renewables and emission goals relate, experts and officials told a meeting last week.

Overlapping policies could mean California ends up paying over the odds in its switch to cleaner energy without more thought on how the US state’s renewables and emission goals relate, experts and officials told a meeting last week.

California’s governor Jerry Brown is aiming to make law by October his plan to extend and deepen a raft of 2020 climate and energy targets by a decade, including cutting GHGs by 40% and for half of power to come from renewables.

But the Joint Agency Symposium on the Governor’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals on Thursday heard that without careful alignment of the goals, the state could be spending far more than it needs.

“To me, the end game is carbon reduction,” said Arlen Orchard, chief executive of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

He cautioned state officials against developing policies that create competing goals or favour particular technologies, a remark that suggests he prefers an approach that prioritises the state’s cap-and-trade system, which has so far had a marginal role in cutting emissions.

Yet, by going for a multi-goal approach, the administration seems wary of leaving the market to decide how the GHG goal will be met.

RENEWABLE PRIORITY

California’s current renewable performance standard (RPS) prioritises making renewable resources like solar and wind cost-competitive with thermal generation but regulators don’t explicitly measure or account for GHG cuts from the overall grid.

This must change as the state increasingly relies on electrifying more parts of the economy, such as transport, to reduce overall emissions, said Ed Randolph, energy division director for the California Public Utilities Commission.

“If we don’t get to 50% [renewables] in the right way, it won’t reduce GHGs,” said Ed Randolph, energy division director for the California Public Utilities Commission.

“The 50% RPS is not sufficient … we need to look at the rest of the system through the lens of a carbon cap,” added Laura Wisland of the Union of Concerned Scientists, noting that the state’s grid operator wastefully keeps gas plants running while curtailing renewables during periods of excess generation.

CAP-AND-TRADE REVENUE

Experts noted the potential role of the state’s carbon market in providing an important source of investment for clean technologies currently too expensive to compete with wind and solar, including biodigester projects the state already helps fund.

More than half of California’s auction proceeds are committed to transportation and housing projects, but about 40% of the money is currently unallocated.

“We’re moving to the point that renewables are the means – not the ends – to achieving greenhouse reductions,” said John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.

“Deployment of cap-and trade funds should be used as part of a plan to fund higher-value and higher-cost renewables,” he said.

By Robert Mullin – news@carbon-pulse.com

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