The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Energy 202: California pledges carbon-free electricity by 2045. Gov. Brown says: "This is not a one-off."

with Paulina Firozi


By many metrics, California is way ahead of other states when it comes to renewable energy. The nation's largest state leads in generating electricity from solar panels and geothermal stations. As of 2016, California got about two-fifths of its electricity from renewable forms of energy.

But the state's leaders just declared that is not good enough.

On Monday, the state's Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, signed into law a landmark bill committing California to getting 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045. The state is giving itself a deadline of 2030 to get 60 percent of its power from renewable energy, up from 50 percent by that same year under the state's previous requirements.  Brown signed the renewable mandate with the support of Democratic majorities in the state legislature but over the opposition of some state Republicans and electric utilities.

Other states have likewise legally bound themselves to cutting climate-warming emissions from their electricity sectors. But none, except for Hawaii, have codified its pledge to make its entire electricity sector free of carbon emission.

"There's a lot to do," Brown said in an interview Monday with The Washington Post. "This is not a one-off."

Indeed, Brown followed the signing of the bill with an executive order promising to make the entire California economy -- including its sizable fleet of automobiles -- carbon-neutral by that year, too. 

And over the weekend, Brown also signed two bills attempting to block new oil drilling off the coast of California. The legislation aims to thwart the Trump administration’s proposed expansion of offshore drilling nationwide by specifically prohibiting the construction of drilling-related infrastructure, including pipelines and piers.

Altogether, that flurry of legislative and executive activity cements California's place as a bulwark against the Trump administration's efforts to roll back President Barack Obama's climate-change policies.

That tit-for-tat began last year after President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Brown, along with the governors of New York and Washington, vowed to adhere to the international agreement, in which nations voluntarily reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

And it continues this week when Brown hosts the Global Action Climate Summit, a conference of government and business leaders from around the world. Organizers of the event in San Francisco hope city and state officials will try to outdo each other with their commitments to clean energy. For example, the mayors of New York City and London, Bill de Blasio and Sadiq Khan, respectively, together have already called on other cities to divest from fossil-fuel firms. 

It's one thing for a city or state to say it wants carbon-free energy. It's another to actually do it. While California gets little electricity from coal, it relied on natural gas for about half the power in the state in 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. While much of the rest comes from solar and wind, that power flows to homes and businesses only when the sun shines or the wind blows. That means today that intermittent renewable energy requires natural gas generation to fill in the gaps.

Brown recognizes the need for inventing new kinds of big batteries to store renewably generated power during off-peak hours so it can be unloaded onto to the grid when needed. 

"This takes expert engineering, scientific research, political collaboration and great wisdom to forge ahead not in one administration but in several," Brown said. "That's why I say we're like at the base camp. I'm looking up at Mount Everest. We've got a big mountain to climb."

Programming note: The Energy 202 will be in San Francisco for the rest of the week covering the Global Action Climate Summit.


— A single power plan hearing: The Environmental Protection Agency will hold a single public hearing on its proposed replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, its biggest rule change to date. The day-long Oct. 1 hearing will take place in Chicago. The Sierra Club was among the environmental groups complaining about the lack of public forums, saying in a statement "Trump and Wheeler are scared of the feedback they will get." Written comments on the replacement plan, called the Affordable Clean Energy rule, will be taken until the end of October. 

— Trump administration eyeing EPA methane rule: The Trump administration plans to roll back yet another Obama-era rule, this time in a move that will make it easier for energy companies to release methane into the atmosphere, the New York Times reports. A proposed plan from the EPA will weaken a requirement that such companies monitor and fix any leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

— “The right solution to a problem”: Former Federal Reserve chair Janet L. Yellen is joining a coalition of prominent conservatives pushing for a carbon tax. “From the standpoint of an economist, the most efficient way to tackle climate change is to tax emissions — to create a disincentive to emit carbon dioxide,” Yellen said in an interview with Bloomberg News before the release of a report pushing a carbon tax-and-dividend plan.

As Hurricane Florence heads towards the Carolinas, it looks to be tracking a pattern further south, bringing high winds, heavy rains and powerful storm surges. (Video: Joyce Koh/The Washington Post)

— "In the bull’s eye": Hurricane Florence rapidly intensified Monday, quickly becoming a Category 4 hurricane with 140 mph winds, as it moved toward the East Coast. The National Hurricane Center predicts it may still strengthen into a near Category 5 hurricane Tuesday. Current forecasts generally project the storm will make landfall between northern South Carolina and North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Thursday, The Post’s Jason Samenow and Brian McNoldy report. If it lands as a Category 4 storm in North Carolina, it will be the strongest storm on record to come ashore that far north.

The National Hurricane Center is warning of a “life threatening storm surge” at the coast, “life-threatening freshwater flooding from a prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall event” from the coast to interior sections and “damaging hurricane-force winds” at the coast and inland. “Like Hurricane Harvey, which stalled over Texas in 2017, Florence could linger over the Southeast for several days after landfall,” Samenow and McNoldy report.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper urged residents to get ready for Hurricane Florence, as evacuations begin along the coast. (Video: Reuters)

Evacuations began Monday, as state and local officials in the Carolinas and other states ordered about 1.5 million people to evacuate a stretch of the coastline ahead of Florence’s expected landfall, The Post’s Samenow, Abigail Hauslohner and Kirk Ross report. “The governors of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina each declared a state of emergency. And the National Park Service said it was preparing for the potential need to deploy a levee through downtown Washington to protect against flooding in a region that already has been saturated by heavy rains in recent weeks,” they write. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) warned residents the state is “in the bull’s eye.”  South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) warned of "a whole lot of flooding” no matter where the hurricane hits.

— A changing current: Meanwhile, The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C. takes a literal deep dive tracking the past and uncertain future of the Gulf Stream.  The paper describes a phenomenon in 2009 when a system of currents, including the Gulf Stream, slowed by 30 percent, leading to a 5 inch sea level rise in New England. While currents regained strength after a year, it left questions about what could come next. "Changes in its velocity could rearrange marine life throughout the hemisphere," the report continues. "If it’s slowing for the long term — as a growing chorus of scientists fear — sea levels on the East Coast would rise more quickly, further threatening billions of dollars in shoreside property."


— ExxonMobil wants to take fight with Massachusetts to the Supreme Court: The nation's largest oil and gas company is calling on the Supreme Court to block a case brought by the Massachusetts attorney general after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in April that the state could investigate Exxon’s climate offenses. “The nation’s largest oil company says that state Attorney General Maura Healey’s (D) wide-ranging demand for documents violates the ‘due process’ clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, since Exxon is headquartered outside of Massachusetts,” The Hill reports.



  • The Atlantic Council holds an event on “The Southern Gas Corridor and the Future of European Gas Supply."

Coming Up

  • The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment hold an event on “Leading Across the Energy Sector” on Wednesday.
  • The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds a hearing on evaluating federal disaster response and recovery efforts on Thursday.
  • The House Science, Space and Technology subcommittees on oversight and on the environment hold a joint hearing on “Examining the Underlying Science and Impacts of Glider Truck Regulations” on Thursday.
  • The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee holds a hearing on emerging transportation technologies on Thursday.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on U.S. LNG in meeting European energy demand on Thursday.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on nuclear technology on Thursday.
  • The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the environment holds a hearing on the air quality impacts of wildfires on Thursday.

— Joe Manchin reloads: West Virginia's Democratic senator, running to keep his seat in the deeply red state, just released a television ad in which he shoots a copy of a lawsuit that the state’s attorney general and his GOP opponent, Patrick Morrisey, joined against the Affordable Care Act. During his first Senate campaign, he shot at another stack of paper: a cap-and-trade bill being pushed by Democrats at the time.