Last week, several state agencies and the California Independent System Operator held a symposium on ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from electricity generation while maintaining an affordable and reliable electricity system.

This multi-agency symposium is part of a series of public forums soliciting stakeholder input on 5 key climate change strategy pillars to meet by 2030 that Governor Jerry Brown identified in his inaugural address earlier this year.  The pillars demonstrate the importance of emissions reductions in critical sectors of California’s economy and include:

  • increasing from one-third to 50 percent the electricity derived from renewable sources;
  • reducing today’s petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent;
  • doubling the efficiency savings achieved at existing buildings and making heating fuels cleaner;
  • reducing the release of methane, black carbon, and other short lived climate pollutants; and
  • managing farm and rangelands, forests, and wetlands so they can store carbon.

An impressive panel presided over this electricity-focused symposium comprised of the following officials:

  • Gov. Jerry Brown’s Office
    • Clifford Rechtschaffen, Sr. Advisor
  • California Public Utilities Commission (“CPUC”)
    • Michael Picker, President
    • Carla J. Peterman, Commissioner
  • California Energy Commission (“CEC”)
    • Robert B. Weisenmiller, Chair
  • California Air Resources Board (“ARB”)
    • Richard Corey, Executive Officer
  • California Independent System Operator (“CAISO”)
    • Stephen Berberich, President and Chief Executive Officer

Since moving to 50 percent renewable energy will lead to increased challenges balancing electricity demand and generation at certain times due to the intermittent nature of renewables, participants discussed how additional tools will be needed to maintain reliability including by balancing supply and demand over broad geographic areas through multistate agreements like the western Energy Imbalance Market; increasing the diversity and flexibility of the generation fleet; expanding electric vehicle infrastructure and encouraging charging during times of high renewable production; deploying emerging storage technologies and programs that reward customers for shifting demand, and building a smarter distribution grid.

CAISO Director of Regional Integration, Phil Pettingill, presented on operational lessons learned important to a low-carbon grid and stressed the importance of regional cooperation.  CPUC Executive Director, Edward Randolph, presented the advantages and disadvantages of several pathways to a GHG-based policy framework for electricity.

The meeting closed with diverse stakeholders commenting on ways to achieve renewable and GHG goals for the electricity sector from the perspective of investor owned utilities, municipal utilities, labor groups, renewable energy companies, environmental groups, and policymakers.  The themes of a need for increased regional coordination, a diverse portfolio of resources, flexible loads, flexible generation, and more advancements in storage resonated throughout the discussions.

While recommendations differed, all participants agreed that decarbonizing the electricity sector will play a critical role in California’s ability to meet the GHG reduction target recently established in Governor Brown’s executive order of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030  – the most aggressive benchmark enacted in North America to date.