California’s climate plan does not include any new gas-fired power plants


California regulators on Wednesday announced plans to accelerate the state’s clean energy transition by cutting fossil fuel demand by the end of the decade, including ending construction of new gas-fired power plants — steps that would help combat climate change , but the state could be at greater risk of power outages.

The proposal, which will be put to the vote of the California Air Resources Board next month, outlines how the state could achieve its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2045, one of the nation’s most ambitious timelines. While it does not have the force of a statutory ban on new gas-fired power plants, its approval would make the state’s current policy clear to other state agencies, including the California Public Utilities Commission.

If California goes through with the proposed plan, planet-warming emissions are expected to fall 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2045. California would also blow its interim target, which mandates that emissions fall by 40 percent by 2030. The new plan assumes a 48 percent cut by the end of the decade.

“The climate is changing before our eyes. We must take action to reduce the worst impacts of a changing climate, and there is only one way to do that, to break our dependency on fossil fuels forever,” said Liane Randolph, Chair of the Air Board. However, she warned that meeting the state’s targets would be challenging. The plan “requires an expansion of renewable energy sources on a scale we’ve never seen in this state,” she said.

Although a previous proposal would have allowed the state to expand its gas use, regulators said they ultimately made that part at the urging of climate activists who spoke on behalf of disadvantaged neighborhoods near oil refineries and gas plants.

California’s efforts to quickly transition to clean energy have been thwarted by the continuing threat of power outages, especially on hot summer nights when air conditioners hum and the state can’t get electricity from solar farms.

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In June, California lawmakers approved a controversial plan, backed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, that would extend the life of old natural gas power plants and the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant to shore up the power grid. CARB’s action this week would not affect that legislation, but it would prevent the construction of new natural gas plants, even those built with emissions-limiting technology.

In addition, air pollution control agencies announced in September a ban on new sales of natural gas heaters, water heaters and stoves through 2030. This ban is part of a new sweeping plan to meet federal ozone standards over the next 15 years, but it will also benefit the climate by reducing carbon emissions.

Under the plan, which was put together by Air Board officials and announced Wednesday, many of the biggest cuts would come from the transportation sector. California has banned the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035, and the board is working on a proposal to end sales of large diesel rigs, vans and other large vehicles within the next two decades.

But the proposal also calls for rapid electrification of buildings: three million all-electric homes by 2030 and seven million by 2035. If the state is to meet its targets, officials will estimate that it will need six million heat pumps and 20 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 2045

“The backbone of this transition will be a clean grid,” said Rajinder Sahota, Executive Vice President for Climate Change and Research. To power millions of cars, trucks and home appliances, the state must nearly double its existing power generation and quadruple wind and solar power, she said.

Still, California doesn’t expect to give up oil and gas. Older gas-powered cars and trucks will be on the road for years to come, and some of the hardest-to-transform industries, like cement plants, are unlikely to move away from fossil fuels anytime soon. “Existing fossil gas generation will continue to play a critical role in grid reliability” until other alternatives can be deployed, the plan states.

To address these remaining sources of greenhouse gases, the proposal recommends the use of carbon capture and storage technologies. Environmentalists have criticized this part of the state’s plan, saying it relies on unproven technology and would allow polluting industries to continue operating in parts of the state plagued by some of the country’s worst air pollution.

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