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SB 350 Marks California’s Next Step in Combating Climate Change

As we start to look back on significant new laws approved by California’s Legislature in 2015, climate change once again took a prominent role. In particular, SB 350 ups the State’s targets for the amount of electricity to be generated in future years from eligible renewable energy resources and sold to retail customers, setting the goal of 50% by 2030. The law also requires the California Energy Commission to set annual targets to double energy efficiency in buildings by 2030. With SB 350, California has strongly reaffirmed its role as a leader in the effort to confront global climate change, while also providing a clear signal to renewable energy developers that solar and wind will continue to play a growing role in the state’s energy future.

SB 350 also emphasizes the important role of electric vehicles in California’s overall scheme to combat climate change, declaring that “[d]eploying electric vehicles should assist in grid management, integrating generation from eligible renewable energy resources, and reducing fuel costs for vehicle drivers . . . .” The bill promotes the development of additional electric vehicle charging infrastructure to encourage greater use of electric cars.

SB 350 follows the renewable energy equation inherent in previous California climate change legislation by relying not only on increasing the sources of renewable energy generation, but also on the reduction of statewide electricity and natural gas demand. As consumers see not only the environmental benefits of energy efficiency, but also the personal economic savings, many renewable energy policies have come to be seen as “win-win.” As a result, SB 350’s energy efficiency targets were met with considerable support, with the expectation that they will be instrumental in reducing state greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other hand, removed from the bill shortly before its passage was a requirement to reduce petroleum use in motor vehicles by 50% by 2030. The controversial provision was stripped from the bill after weeks of lobbying by oil companies and resistance from various members of the State Assembly. The removed provision received considerable attention from the media in the days leading up to and following approval of the bill.

Notably, Senator Fran Pavley’s SB 32, which would have required a reduction in carbon emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, did not make it to the finish line in 2015. SB 32 would have built upon California’s landmark adoption of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (often referred to as “AB 32”), which requires California to reduce its GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. With 2020 quickly approaching, we are likely to see more legislation addressing California’s long-term carbon reduction goals. Senator Pavley already has announced that SB 32 will return in next year’s session, potentially without a 2050 target. However, the inability to move SB 32 through the State Assembly signals significant concern over the potential economic repercussions of certain climate change policies.

As climate change legislation is debated in the Legislature in 2016, we will keep you advised through further posts in Lay of the Land.