When Thinking Globally, Policymakers Should Remember Local Impacts

On September 12-14, 2018, the Global Climate Action Summit will convene in San Francisco, following Governor Brown’s 2017 announcement in advance of the United Nations’ Conference of Climate Change that California would continue to abide by the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement was enacted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, from which the Trump administration withdrew the United States last year. As global and California leaders gather with economists, scientists, and policymakers around the globe, it is important to keep in mind the long- term goals of climate policy, but also the impact on everyday consumers and citizens of this State and the country. If California is to continue to be a global leader in climate change policy, it must ensure that policies move forward in a manner that has a scientific and demonstrable impact on global greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions without driving good paying, middle-class jobs and economic growth out of California.

The California Energy Commission estimates that California makes up a mere 1% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Recent studies also indicate that even if California emitted zero GHGs from 1990-2011, the amount of global CO2 emissions and atmospheric conditions would remain virtually unchanged. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) reports that California reduced its GHG emissions by about 14% from 2004-2015. By comparison, 30 states have reduced their GHG emissions by higher levels than California, with states like North Carolina and Tennessee more than double California’s reductions, without the same onerous regulatory scheme.

It is with that background that many were concerned when the legislature recently passed SB 100 (de León), which calls for 100% renewable energy by 2045. SB 100, which was signed by Governor Brown this week will likely result in additional renewable resources being added to the western grid. According to the California Independent System Operator, which manages and dispatches energy across the Western United States, California renewables are curtailed—e.g. shut down—at an increasing rate. Curtailments reached almost 950,000 megawatt hours in February of 2018 alone. This energy is wasted because energy from solar panels peaks at the height of the sun, while energy consumption peaks in the late afternoon and early evening, when the majority of Californians come home, turn on their air conditioning or electronics, or plug in their state-rebated electric vehicles. This past session’s AB 813 (Holden) was an attempt to provide a much-needed outlet for such excess power, but the legislature chose not to act upon this bill. As Governor Brown noted in his signing statement for SB 100, a “regionalized grid would enhance California’s low-carbon grid by by allowing us to share renewable resources with our neighboring states, while reducing costs and increasing resiliency of our grid.” The legislature would do well to remember that all that power must be managed, and pass bills like AB 813 to ensure smart growth.

As legislators and leaders gather to solve the world’s climate change problems, it is important to keep in mind that legislated solutions have an everyday impact on Californians. These costs are not only passed along to luxury manufacturers but fall on small and large businesses alike. When energy rates are increased on these California employers, these businesses are forced to increase the costs of basic goods and services. While residential energy rates are often subsidized, individuals end up paying the cost of increased goods and services, resulting in increased cost of living in an already uber-competitive market. These facts are important to keep in mind as we chart a path forward for California’s energy future.

Leah Silverthorn, Policy Advocate