Panama Bartholemy and Stephanie Wang at the San Francisco Green Festival

Those of us who live in California often have occasion to feel proud of our state's leadership in the area of clean energy. Last weekend's spring San Francisco Green Festival provided another such opportunity at the session on "Accelerating the Transition to Clean Energy," with speakers Panama Bartholemy of the CA Energy Commission and Stephanie Wang from the CLEAN Coalition.

California is facing these realities:

  • The demand for electricity in the state is growing by about 1.2 - 1.6% a year.
  • In California, 1 in 5 children have asthma.
  • Electricity use accounts for 24% of emissions in the state, transportation 37%, and industry 21%.
  • Though we use a lot more natural gas than energy from dirtier sources such as coal, California produces only 13% of the natural gas we use.

However, according to Panama Bartholemy, these are also true:

  • More jobs are created by renewable energy than by natural gas production.
  • By the end of 2010, California was getting 17% of our energy from renewable sources, and our goal for 2020 is 30%.
  • Almost 300 renewable energy facilities are in the permitting process in California, representing over 51,000 megawatts. Although not all of these will get built, there's clearly a lot of activity in this area.
  • Though the costs for solar installation are still high, the cost of photovoltaic solar has plummeted, and by 2020 the cost of PV should be comparable to that of energy from the grid.
  • An expansion of large wind and solar is expected in the state.

That last item sounds positive, but it creates challenges in two areas: How do we build these large facilities responsibly and avoid destroying precious habitat for endangered species? And how do we avoid building miles of transmission lines?

A solution that the CLEAN coalition ("Making Clean Energy Accessible Now") is pursuing is to move from placing solar and wind facilities in the desert to generating renewable energy within our communities. In keeping with this goal, Stephanie Wang noted, Governor Jerry Brown has called for 60% of clean energy systems in California to be installed within California communities in the next 10 years.

CLEAN programs are being launched at local, state, and national levels and are expected to cut costs and encourage renewable energy production:

  • CLEAN contracts require utilities to enter into long-term contracts to purchase all energy from eligible renewable energy systems at a fixed rate, making it easier to sell clean energy to utilities. This also encourages more production of clean energy -- for example, currently, any excess energy produced by a PG&E customer can only be used as a credit over the course of the year, not sold to PG&E. So there's no incentive to produce more than one will use over the year. These programs will change that and thereby encourage installation of renewable energy systems on unused spaces such as warehouse roofs.
  • Grid interconnection makes it easier to site and connect clean local energy projects to the grid, and to reduce time and costs for financing.

CLEAN California, which will soon be launched, is expected to create more clean energy projects faster than other plans. It will create more jobs that employ people locally, and it will stimulate billions dollars of investment in the state. According to a study by UC Berkeley, the program will increase direct state revenues by over $2 billion. In addition, creating power locally avoids the 10 years or so required to plan and build transmission lines -- not to mention that some power is lost when being transported over these lines. Instead of damaging fragile habitat, the program advocates placing solar systems over areas such as landfills, parking lots, commercial or apartment buildings, and agricultural land.

If you're a California resident interested in participating, you can take action with CLEAN California by becoming a partner (if you represent an organization that can endorse the CLEAN California program), requesting a speaker, or getting involved as an organizer. And if you live in the rest of the country, never fear -- programs like this one are planned around the country. It will be interesting to follow them and see where they go.