Good News: California Set to Eclipse Renewable Energy Target

California has consistently set the bar high when it comes to climate action, and in the case of renewable energy, the state has consistently over-performed. The latest report from the California Public Utilities Commission shows that major utilities have already met or will soon exceed the state’s renewable energy target of 33 percent clean electricity by 2020. In fact, the utilities forecast that on an aggregated basis they will meet the 2030 target of 50 percent clean energy by 2020.

With this decade’s targets already in the bag and 2030’s targets a decade ahead of schedule, California is ready to move the bar again. Come January, the legislature will have a historic opportunity, in Senate Bill 100 (SB 100), to set a target of 100 percent clean electricity by 2045. Given California’s track record of bold climate action and achievement, there’s no reason to doubt that California can eliminate carbon pollution from electricity by mid-century.   

California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), one of the most ambitious in the country, sets a series of targets for the amount of clean, renewable electricity utilities should sell. Since first passing the standard in 2002, the state legislature has successfully kept the RPS moving forward as intended. The existing standard of 33 percent renewables by 2020 was set in 2011; an extension to 50 percent by 2030 was set in 2015. According to the CPUC report, major utilities will easily exceed that 2020 target and are forecasting reaching 50 percent by 2020.

The RPS has also helped fuel reductions in the price of renewable electricity, allowing utilities to meet their goals ahead of schedule and under budget. Between 2008 and 2016, the price utilities paid for solar energy dropped 77 percent. In a similar time period, the prices of wind contracts reported to the CPUC have gone down 47 percent.

SB100 is well-positioned to extend this track record of success. And there’s no better time than now for serious climate action. As communities struggle to recover from this year’s unprecedented forest fires, and the Trump Administration continues to walk backward on climate, people want to see California take the lead.

The benefits from California’s climate laws have been far-reaching. Green energy is one of the fastest growing jobs sectors of the economy. The money raised from charging polluters for their pollution is helping create jobs in low-income communities, such as planting trees in degraded parks, and providing energy-efficient housing for low-income Californians. SB 100 will keep California on track to achieve its long-term carbon goals and will also help improve air quality in disadvantaged communities across the state.

SB100 is a bold plan. Considering that California has successfully implemented all its renewable standards to date, ahead of schedule and under budget, it’s a sensible plan, too. By moving forward with 100 percent clean electricity, the legislature can give a clear signal to the market that California will continue to walk a low-carbon path, and to California citizens that a future of cleaner air and safer climate is within reach.

About the Authors

Peter Miller

Senior Scientist, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.