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California Public Utilities Commission passes proposal to lower greenhouse gas emissions

While environmentalists say the commission’s initiative isn’t perfect, they agree its big step forward for the Golden State in the displacement of fossil fuels.

(CN) — California’s Public Utilities Commission passed an initiative on Thursday to enhance the state’s clean electricity capacity in an effort to meet an ambitious goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

The energy order, approved by all five commissioners serving on board, procures an additional 4,000 megawatts of electricity sources for 2026 and 2027, supplementing the 11,500 megawatts of new electricity resources ordered in June 2021.

According to the commission, its 2021 energy initiative was its largest capacity procurement ordered at a single time and its largest requiring only clean resources, powering 2.5 million homes in California between 2023 and 2026. Its decision to order more power on Thursday comes in response to the increasing challenges posed by climate change and California Energy Commission’s forecasts indicating increased electricity demand.

The commission also recommend an electric resource portfolio for the California Independent System Operator’s transmission planning process, setting the agency toward a 30 million metric ton greenhouse gas target by 2030.

“I think the thing that we're the most pleased about, and that actually has some of the biggest influence on procurement in the long run, is the new emissions limit of 30 million metric tons of greenhouse gas by 2030,” said Ari Eisenstadt, a campaign manager for Regenerate California.

Eisenstadt explained that with lower emission limits and rapidly approaching deadlines, clean resources will become more available and attractive compared to gas plants, making it more likely they will retire. The low emissions limit, he said, is something the California Environmental Justice Alliance has advocated for many years.

“Eventually we'd like to see that come down to zero,” Eisenstadt said. “But this new limit really does go a long way in encouraging procurement that is clean and that ultimately retires gas plants in frontline communities.”

Katherine Ramsey, senior attorney for the Sierra Club, concurred. Yet while the Ramsey said the decision ensures California will see reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and is in line with what the state needs to address climate change, she noted it’s not a perfect proposal.

“There are some important details that Sierra Club and CEJA haven't supported, like the bridge contracts with out of state fossil resources, so that could mean coal or gas plants,” Ramsey said. “That is an issue. If it were up to me, those wouldn't be in there.”

Eisenstadt, too, pointed out the bridge contracts, which he said initially allowed California utility companies to outsource electricity from out-of-state gas plants for up to ten years. This time frame, he feared, was just long enough for plants to expand or build new gas capacities entirely.

“We really don't want to see our pollution offloaded to other frontline communities in different states,” Eisenstadt said.

The approved plan on Thursday, however, lowered the ten-year window down to three, which Eisenstadt admits is an improvement.

Ramsey also praised how the commission’s initiative on Thursday made a commitment to modeling what resources it will need in the future to retire gas plants.

“This is super important to environmental justice communities and Regenerate’s campaign because we want to make sure that communities that have been overburdened by gas plant emissions for years are the first to see relief,” Ramsey said, adding: “We want to plan for a scenario where the clean resources that we're all paying for are actually displacing fossil fuel usage.”

According to the commission’s public meeting presentation on Thursday, the commission does not know how much it will cost to implement the proposal but that is “to be determined once additional transmission analysis is conducted by the CAISO and electricity resourced are purchased by the load serving entities.”

Categories: Energy Government

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