California could boost its efforts to generate most of its electricity from carbon-free resources such as wind and solar by phasing out fossil fuels entirely by 2045 under a legislation approved Tuesday by the Assembly.
The bill would require California utilities to get half their energy from wind, solar and other renewable resources by 2026 — four years sooner than current law requires. They would then have four more years to get the remaining from renewables. The 2045 deadline of phasing out fossil fuels is a goal that does not include mandates or penalties.
The state – the world’s fifth-largest economy – currently gets about 44 percent of its power from renewables and hydropower.
“It’s already happening for economic reasons,” said Pavel Molchanov, an analyst at Raymond James Financial Inc., who noted that solar and wind are the cheapest sources of electricity in some regions. “I think California can get to 100 percent in 15 years.”
California has positioned itself to lead the battle against climate change by cutting emissions even as the Trump administration has worked to roll back the state’s stringent auto pollution standards and prop up ailing coal-fired power plants. Earlier this year, California became the first U.S. state to mandate solar rooftop panels on almost all new homes. It would be the second state to require 100 percent carbon-free power after Hawaii.
“This is landmark legislation that is helping to stave off some of the worst effects of climate change,” said Dan Jacobson, state director for Environment California, an environmental advocacy group. “We need it more than ever because the state and the world are starting to see the devastating impacts of climate change.”
The move would accelerate a shift already under way to wind and solar but hinges on a big bet — that battery costs will plunge, allowing for a transition away from the natural gas plants that provide about a third of California’s electricity.
The bill must clear the state Senate — which had already approved an earlier version of the measure — before heading to Governor Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign it into law. The legislature adjourns at the end of the week.
Proponents of the bill say solar and wind energy already compete in price with fossil fuels and that costs are expected to decline further. But they also note that the measure allows for a mix of clean-energy resources, including large hydroelectric dams.
Opponents – including the state’s investor-owned utilities run by PG&E Corp., Edison International and Sempra Energy – raised concerns that the requirement would raise electricity costs. Even some lawmakers criticized the measure, saying it would saddle families and businesses with higher energy bills.
“Why would this body double-down and further increase costs on struggling California families?” said Steven Choi, R-Irvine.
For instance, California would need to install more than 200 times as much energy-storage capacity than it has now to make up for the loss of gas plants, according to the Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based energy-policy nonprofit.
“When it comes to fighting climate change and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, California won’t back down,” the bill’s sponsor, California state Senator Kevin De Leon said. “We have doubled down.”
Bloomberg contributed to this report.