California has set about an ambitious goal to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2045. The legislation, called Senate Bill (SB) 100 passed by the state Senate with Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) championing it, has sparked clashing visions among unions, utilities, environmentalists, energy companies and lawmakers.
The measure accelerates California’s deadline for reaching 50% renewable energy from 2030 to 2026. Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, is adamant that this is the right path for the state: "We absolutely do not need natural gas or coal. The costs of solar are so low. The costs of wind are very low."
However, others are not so sure. "I think the key is to start down that path and keep our options open," opinionates Ken Caldeira, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford. He points out that while we have the renewable technologies in our grasp today, they are currently much too expensive to make the bill’s goal attainable under a budget. Eighty percent, instead of one hundred, may be a more realistic goal, economically at least.
Perhaps because of this, along with other technical obstacles in infrastructure, California lawmakers rewrote the bill to stipulate a goal of 100% greenhouse-gas-free energy, instead of 100% renewable. Under these terms, 60% of the state’s energy would still have to come from renewable sources while the rest could be generated from nuclear energy or even natural gas power plants, supposing they capture their carbon emissions. As of now, California generates roughly a quarter of its electricity from renewables.
"I'd say flexibility is critical," says Lupe Jimenez, research and development manager at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. "If we're looking for a low-carbon future, I don't think we want to narrow our options."