By V. John White, Executive Director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies and a member of the Fix the Grid Coalition.
It is now clear that California is ready to generate at least 50 percent of its electricity by 2030 from renewable resources such as solar and wind. But increasing it beyond that point, a goal supported by many Californians, will require new and different approaches and a significant amount of flexibility to manage the rapidly growing levels of clean energy resources that are powering our homes and businesses.
Integrating California’s power grid with neighboring states that share our environmental ethic will provide the flexibility we need to create a modern, efficient and reliable low-carbon grid. The state’s current electricity grid is limited; connecting with neighboring states will help accelerate the transition from coal and natural gas and enable efficient utilization of solar, wind and geothermal energy across the West.
Neighboring states that meet California’s high environmental standards will be good partners. Oregon banned coal generation in 2016 and Nevada is already committed to exiting its remaining coal plants and expanding renewables. Fully integrating California’s grid with states that have abundant, low-cost clean energy resources will allow grid operators to move renewable energy in real-time, quickly and easily, from places where it is in large supply to places where there isn’t enough. For example, by integrating California’s grid with Nevada, our state could sell excess solar when the sun is shining here and buy wind energy when it’s not.
In addition to these benefits, a regional grid will bring real savings for consumers. When we avoid construction of new gas plants and bring more renewable power online, a regional grid coupled with energy efficiency programs could save Californians more than $1 billion a year and reduce pollution in the disadvantaged communities that are most affected by fossil fuels generation.
It’s paramount that, in its transition to a zero-carbon grid, California protects what we already have: clean energy and environmental policies that benefit people, the economy and our environment. That won’t change under a fully integrated grid, nor will the state’s control over its energy mix. With California’s momentum toward a carbon-free electricity grid, the logical next step is for the Legislature to lay the groundwork for expansion into a regionalized western grid in a thoughtful process.
As the state takes its next big steps toward clean electricity, including moving toward 100 percent clean energy, we have to recognize this transition will not come overnight. Moving away from existing energy sources will take time and require thoughtful planning. But lawmakers need to start now to identify and advance policy solutions that will modernize California’s electric grid so operators have the necessary tools to ensure a reliable flow of clean electricity at an affordable price that benefits every Californian.
Fair and equitable policy that expands the state’s electricity system, reducing local and regional air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by smart deployment of renewables and other advanced low carbon technologies can happen. By participating with the Western power grid, we can create sustainable jobs and lower rate payers’ electricity bills while helping the state reach its ambitious climate goals.
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