Frequently Asked Questions
Powering California’s Future with Clean, Affordable and Reliable Energy: Four Principles for Success
Updated February 2022
Why is CMUA's policy paper needed now?
If California is going to reach affordable and reliable 100% clean energy by 2045, the state needs a simple set of core values that will help guide the way during this very complicated transition.
Our state is a world leader in developing and implementing renewable, clean energy. But we quickly are reaching an important inflection point on two big fronts: electric prices in California are among the highest in the nation and are continuing to rise, and the reliability of the state’s electric grid is coming under duress, especially during prolonged heat waves, as California increasingly relies upon intermittent, renewable energy to power homes, businesses and the state’s economy as a whole.
If electricity prices become too high, Californians won’t want to drive electric vehicles or electrify their homes — the state’s primary solutions for addressing climate pollutants from the two biggest sources: transportation and buildings.
If California’s energy grid isn’t reliable, there could be significant and harmful impacts to public health and safety, and our economy as a whole. California saw this firsthand in August 2020, when the California Independent System Operator — the state’s primary grid manager — was forced to implement rotating power outages in some communities due to a persistent westwide heatwave. A subsequent government analysis blamed three factors, among them a lack of adequate planning for the integration of renewable energy during evening hours.
California's goal for 100% clean energy is in 2045, more than two decades in the future. Don't we have enough time to worry about details later?
No, the details matter now. Many of the projects needed to deliver 100% clean energy will take many years to execute and build. At the same time, how Californians consume electricity is changing: more people, for example, are driving electric vehicles, and those kinds of behavioral changes will in turn change the characteristics of utilities’ electric load — an important factor when utilities plan far ahead for the energy resources needed to support their customers in the coming years and decades.
California’s inaugural SB 100 Report, which is a roadmap for achieving the state’s 100% clean energy goal, found as much as 173 gigawatts of new resources — triple what’s on the grid today — might be needed by 2045. This includes new solar and wind farms, geothermal, and battery storage systems. These types of energy projects must undergo environmental and land use permitting, secure financing, and get grid interconnection approval. Then, construction can begin. These steps in the planning process can take years of coordination among many government agencies and stakeholders.
One area of infrastructure that takes a lot of time and resources is constructing new transmission powerlines needed to bring electricity to where people live. It takes a decade or longer to build new transmission, which is important to consider when California will need to 173 gigawatts of new energy resources to achieve its 100% clean energy target.
In order to mitigate the impacts of climate change, shouldn’t California spend whatever it takes to build as many clean energy projects as possible, no matter the cost?
Although a connection might not be obvious at first glance, maintaining affordable electricity is critical to successfully achieving California’s overall climate change goals. Why is that?
Numerous experts, including the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, have concluded that high rates discourage consumer adoption of electric vehicles and other electric technologies that will be essential to achieving the state’s overall climate goal of reducing GHG emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. The transportation sector accounts for over half of the state’s GHG emissions. If the fuel — electricity — is too expensive, then Californians won’t want to drive electric vehicles.
California already has some of the highest electric rates in the nation. Achieving California’s clean energy goals will add even more costs — at least $4.6 billion a year, and potentially another $8 billion a year — if all combustion generation is eliminated entirely in the state. Electric rates will go up.
Doesn’t society already have the technology it needs — like solar, windmills, and batteries — to provide 100% clean energy?
It’s not as straightforward as many think. Solar, wind and batteries already play a critical role in California’s ongoing transition to an entirely clean electric grid. But these renewable resources come with their own set of challenges.
Solar and wind both are what’s known as “intermittent” resources, meaning they only produce power when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. Similarly, lithium-ion batteries can be a valuable energy source, too, and help address the intermittency of wind and solar, but generally these battery types only can discharge electricity for 4 to 8 hours at a time.
Together, these technologies are likely not sufficient for providing power during long periods of time when intermittent resources might be unavailable, such as during long periods of fog or cloud cover.
What is needed for a truly reliable grid — one that can power our homes, businesses, and cars around the clock 24/7/365 — is a diverse set of cost-effective energy resources. This includes large hydroelectric generation, geothermal, and new long-duration energy storage technologies that are being tested for deployment.
Does this imply it’s impossible to reach 100% clean energy?
No! Like most things, there is a right and wrong way to do it. CMUA’s policy paper, Powering California’s Future with Clean, Affordable and Reliable Energy: Four Principles for Success, explains why the right way to go about delivering on the state’s ambitious goal is to provide legal stability, make decisions that enhance affordability and reliability, and allow utilities the needed flexibility to test out solutions and use diverse types of energy resources.
CMUA’s policy paper recommends legal and regulatory stability. Does that mean California policymakers shouldn’t write any new requirements aimed at solving climate change?
California has the goals and requirements in place to transition to 100% clean energy. What is needed now is a focus on implementation and motivation to enact policies that reduce barriers to implementation.
California already has several laws and regulations on the books that dictate a steep reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the electric sector, including: the 100 Percent Clean Energy Act of 2018, the Clean Energy and Pollution Act of 2015, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, and many more.
Importantly, the electric sector is doing its part: Since 2006, the electric sector has reduced its GHG emissions by more than 40%, significantly more than any other sector in California. Those reductions will continue in the years and decades ahead.
What can I do to support CMUA's four clean energy principles: predictability, reliability, affordability and flexibility?
Contact your legislator and share this message. They can be found at https://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/