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California is falling behind in producing wind power

Danielle Osborn Mills
Danielle Osborn Mills

American renewable energy was born in California.

During the 1980s, we pioneered the use of wind energy, tapping into our rich history of innovation and the desire to remain at the forefront of good environmental stewardship. Due in no small part to California’s leadership, wind farms now exist across 41 states, and they play an important role in America’s diversified electricity mix. Our country has enough installed wind capacity to power 25 million homes, and in many places, wind is now the cheapest source of new electricity.

Without our entrepreneurial spirit, that couldn’t have happened.

However, California is at risk of falling behind. We’ve lost our spot atop the wind-power leaderboard, falling to fourth in installed capacity. In recent years, Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma have all passed California, while Kansas is nipping at our heels.

And this is a bad time to fall behind.

California’s leadership has been clear in its direction to the state’s energy agencies and utilities. In 2015, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León led the passage of a law requiring that 50 percent of our electricity come from renewable sources by 2030. Last year, California accelerated its carbon goals to achieve a 40 percent reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2030.

Agencies are devoting significant resources to the development of an all-encompassing planning process, which seeks to confirm what we already know: We need new renewable energy investment, and a diverse set of technologies from a larger geographic footprint will reduce ratepayer costs.

The state’s three largest investor-owned utilities are on track to achieve 33 percent renewable energy by 2020, but they have not planned investments to get to 50 percent by 2030. And now, a new bill also authored by de León, Senate Bill 100, proposes moving the 50 percent target up to 2026 and eventually hitting 100 percent clean energy by 2045.

New investments in California and regional wind will create jobs in California, clean up the carbon-content of imported electricity, enhance the reliability of the grid and, yes – at the same time – save consumers billions of dollars.

First and foremost, investing in low-cost wind will create a substantial net gain of jobs in California. Our state already has over 3,000 wind jobs, many at the 12 in-state factories building wind-related parts and materials. California is a leader in training the new crop of wind technicians, who keep busy in California and neighboring states on routine turbine operations and maintenance. California jobs grow regardless of where the projects are located.

On top of jobs, the rich wind resource from the east can also help California clean up the imported electricity we bring in, over 80 percent of which currently comes from conventional sources. And by complementing the swell of solar PV feeding our energy demand in the daylight hours, wind helps keep the costs low and the lights on.

Finally, there are substantial consumer benefits in play. A study by National Renewable Energy Laboratory researchers found that a modest investment in regional wind would lower the cost of California’s 2030 energy mix, saving our state’s ratepayers up to $1 billion each year and enabling additional California-based renewable energy development.

Californians enjoy an abundance of renewable resources and a suite of policies that nurture mature and emerging clean technologies. We’ve set ambitious goals to cut pollution and power our state with clean energy. If we want to meet the goals we’ve set, it’s time to reclaim our status as a wind energy leader. Adding more wind energy is the most cost-effective way to create the clean, prosperous future we envision.

Danielle Osborn Mills is director of the American Wind Energy Association California Caucus. She can be contacted at danielle@renewableenergystrat.com.

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