The future is now.
I’m one of those who firmly believe that California can achieve its goal of 100% renewable and zero carbon energy by 2045, on its own and, perhaps just as importantly, in ways that will be affordable and reliable. One of the benefits of being the world’s 5th largest economy is the scale that comes along with it. By creating a legislative framework that includes both carrots and sticks, California is in a position to leverage that scale in ways that can enhance and expedite the move toward 100% renewable energy, a fact that that has already been proved by the state’s success in exceeding the timeline for earlier goals. The key to success in achieving these goals is the insight that, unlike the fossil fuels they will replace, renewable energy sources are technologies, not resources.
As such, their development is governed by a set of well-known principles that recognize that their costs over time are subject to what is generally referred to as the “experience curve,” wherein as development and adoption of new technologies accelerate, the costs of those technologies tend to progressively decline. A good example of this principle can be found in the evolution of technologies such as battery and solar power, once exorbitantly expensive relative to other sources of power, and which are now not only more than competitive with fossil fuels, but on a trajectory which will further solidify their place in the new energy economy.
The key to supporting—and ideally enhancing—the development of renewable fuel alternatives, is going to be legislative support—ensuring that the proper policy and regulatory frameworks are in place to support innovation and drive adoption. As a result of the remarkable gains to date, and in the face of the climate change imperative, this should be an uncontroversial approach for the Legislature to take, but it’s also important to realize that all these changes are taking place in a very “noisy” environment, against countervailing claims of climate change denial, as well as in the face of well-honed Chamber of Commerce “job killer” arguments premised on the assertion that any policy that embraces environmental progress is somehow at the expense of the local economy and the jobs and tax burdens of hard-working families.
In fact, the opposite is actually the case—in California, more so than anywhere, embracing green technologies is the best thing we can do, both for the environment and economic growth, given both the scale of our own internal economy and the broader opportunities outside it. California’s goal should absolutely be to reach complete freedom from fossil fuels. Without such a goal, the prospect of real progress toward fully renewable energy is unlikely, and even if the path toward wringing out the last 5% of our power needs turns out to be harder—and possibly to take longer—than assumed, the net results will be undeniably positive.
Having said that, even in the best case scenario, the transition to a fossil-free economy is not going to be completely without friction. That’s where political leadership comes in, complete with facts, plans, and a willingness to stay the course, even if that entails some tough votes and, as inconceivable as it may be to some of my political friends, possibly even losing an election in the service of doing the right thing.
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