NEWS: Energy and environmental policy
SF Climate Week Recap: Navigating the Energy Transition with Dollars and Sense

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May 3, 2024

On April 23, 2024, E3 was proud to host a San Francisco Climate Week event on progress and barriers towards meeting California’s climate and clean electricity goals.

The panel discussion, hosted at E3’s San Francisco office, covered some of the lessons learned from California’s multi-decade history at the forefront of renewable energy adoption nationwide. Amber Mahone, E3’s Managing Partner, kicked off the discussion by celebrating California’s success at achieving its 2020 climate goals six years ahead of schedule. She also noted the rapid adoption of renewable energy in the state, including California currently serving 60% of electricity demand with zero-carbon resources. She acknowledged that the next set of goals, including carbon neutrality by 2045, and serving 100% of retail sales with zero-carbon resources by 2045, will require a redoubling of effort. The question to the panelists asked, “what will it take to equitably and affordably decarbonize the electricity sector over the next two decades?”

The panelists brought deep expertise on the topics of renewable energy financing, development, procurement, and environmental and policy perspectives, featuring insights from:

  • Michael Colvin, Head of California Advocacy at the Environmental Defense Fund
  • Fong Wan, Senior Vice President at Pacific Gas & Electric (retired)
  • Sandy Hull, Director of Commercial Operations at RWE
  • Jack Stark, Chief Financial Officer at Generate Capital

Key takeaways from the panel included:

  • Need to Streamline Permitting Processes – Speed is Affordability for Project Financing: Panelists agreed that California could further streamline its permitting processes to accelerate the construction of clean energy projects. Panelists contrasted the process in California with a faster development timeline and “concierge-like” interconnection service in Texas.
  • Importance of Firm Capacity to Ensue Electric Reliability; No Clear Consensus on Which Emerging Technologies will Ultimately Replace Fossil Fuels: The panelists agreed on the important role of wind, solar, energy storage, and transmission and distribution upgrades in the near-term, as well as the importance of firm capacity resources on the grid to maintain reliability.  There was no clear consensus from the group around the best bets for emerging technologies to provide additional clean firm capacity to the grid. The discussion touched on the potential benefits as well as the costs and risks of floating offshore wind, hydrogen, long-duration energy storage, and small modular reactors, as examples.
  • Importance of Utility Bills and Energy Affordability: The primary cause for the rise in many Californian’s utility bills is attributed to the impact of wildfires and other public benefits programs, not the increased investment in renewable energy projects. This rise in costs poses a significant challenge for customers in California, and may slow the pace of electrification.
  • Optimism About Decarbonizing the Electric Sector: Despite near-term permitting, siting and cost challenges, there was optimism among the panelists regarding California’s progress and trajectory towards decarbonizing the electric sector.

filed under: Energy and environmental policy