California Launches Bold Plan to Reinvent its Electric System: No New Fossil Fuel Generation Needed

California energy regulators listened to community needs and environmental justice leaders and committed to enough clean energy investment to power 2.5 million homes with no new fossil fuel procurement — a major win for protecting vulnerable communities from the health, climate and financial dangers of fossil gas.

Imagine rebuilding nearly 25% of California’s large-scale power generation in just five years. That is what California’s energy policymakers at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) have recently set in motion.

The CPUC has voted unanimously to order electricity providers to procure 11,500 megawatts of what is called net qualifying capacity (NQC) of clean, non-fossil power resources, by 2026.  NQC means that power must be available for delivery between the hours of 5 pm to 9 pm, daily.

To put that amount of clean new electricity into perspective, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which manages the energy grid second by second, currently has about 50,000 megawatts of NQC under its direct control, including imports from neighboring states.

There are multiple reasons that California needs to quickly build a lot of new clean energy resources, including unparalleled amounts of battery energy storage.

  • First, four large 60+ year-old fossil power plants along the coast will close in 2023.
  • Second, the Diablo Canyon nuclear plants will close in 2024 and 2025.
  • Third, many coal plants in the Pacific Northwest from Montana to Oregon have closed or will be closing soon, limiting the amount of imported power available to California.
  • Fourth, changing weather from climate change is making hydroelectric generation across the West much more uncertain.
  • And finally, California law requires a zero-carbon economy by 2045, and California has a long way to go to arrive at a zero-carbon energy grid.

Until just two days before the CPUC’s historic vote, it looked like the five Commissioners might authorize as much as 1,500 megawatts of new fossil gas along with 10,000 megawatts of clean energy. This would have added more polluting gas-fired power generation that would be harmful to our health and hold California back on the path to a carbon-free future.

However, widespread public outrage at the proposal for added gas generation led by organizations like the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice helped change the proposed decision brought before the CPUC.

Following media pressure and hundreds of public comments including from Vote Solar members, the fossil fuel requirement was removed.

The CPUC’s adopted procurement order carves out 4,500 megawatts for clean energy technologies with specific performance characteristics.  To replace the nuclear power plants, 2,500 megawatts must be zero-emission generation paired with storage and be on line by 2025.

Longer term, the CPUC wants to see the development of non-weather dependent resources like geothermal and longer-duration storage with a minimum of 8 hours of storage that can be used daily.  These so-called long lead time resources need to be operational by 2026, although a delay to 2028 can be requested if a good faith effort has been made to get them online earlier.

It is possible that California will see as much as 13,000 megawatts of new large-scale solar added to the California grid in the next four years as a result of today’s CPUC decision, which would double the amount of large-scale solar already built across the state and will charge batteries that will deliver power late into the evening after the sun goes down.

The next step is for each of the state’s 28 electricity providers to individually or jointly issue requests for proposals for the 11,500 megawatts of new clean energy generation and storage.

With this decision, the Commission has shown tremendous climate leadership and delivered a major win for protecting vulnerable communities from the health, climate and financial dangers of fossil gas.  Significant public participation in this victory underscores the critical importance of engaging communities in energy planning and ensuring that those most impacted by the harms of fossil fuels have a say in our clean energy future.

With active public engagement and a responsive Commission, we’re building a brighter future in California.

Hear from the Regenerate Coalition on this victory for California communities.

Learn more: Get a visual explainer on the issues around fossil fuel reliance in California from CCAEJ and the Regenerate Coalition.

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