Noah Berger / AP Photo

California enacts ambitious renewable energy law

California is now required to produce half its electricity from renewable sources by 2030

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed into law a bill requiring California to produce half its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, a goal he said was key to combating global climate change.

"A decarbonized future is the reason we're here," Brown said at a signing ceremony in Los Angeles. "What we're doing here is very important, especially for low-income families."

The bill also requires a doubling of energy efficiency in buildings by 2030.

Brown insisted that the world needs to wean itself off fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

"What has been the source of our prosperity now becomes the source of our ultimate destruction, if we don't get off it. And that is so difficult," Brown said at a signing ceremony at the hilltop Griffith Observatory, overlooking the haze of downtown Los Angeles, which try as it might cannot claim to have invented smog. A London resident coined the term in 1905.

California already has some of the world's toughest air quality standards, and set a mandate in 2006 to derive a third of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal by 2020. State regulators say they already hit 25 percent last year, as huge solar farms sprouted in the desert and towering windmills went up along mountain passes.

Environmentalists cheered the new law even though language to cut petroleum use by 50 percent over 15 years was stripped from the bill after objections from the oil industry and some lawmakers.

"I'm disappointed that we don't have the petroleum piece," bill author Senator Kevin de Leon said after the signing. "But two measures dealing with the energy efficiency and renewable energy are far-reaching and the most advanced in the world."

A decarbonized future is the reason we're here.

Jerry Brown

Governor of California

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, said the oil industry will keep working with Brown and others on strategies to protect the environment and the economy.

Just how California will meet the new goal isn't clear. The bill by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, left the details to the state's Air Resources Board, Energy Commission and Public Utilities Commission. These boards are led mostly by gubernatorial appointees and have broad influence over economic life.

California's utilities favored the measure. They mostly use natural gas, nuclear energy and some coal, but solar, wind, geothermal and biomass are growing sources of electricity, and regulators are expected to allow them to pass some costs of the transition on to consumers.

The new law also encourages utilities to expand by building many more charging stations for electric vehicles, and provides for fines or penalties if utilities don't meet the goals.

Supporters say Californians can keep saving money through rebates and subsidies as they purchase electric vehicles, replace inefficient light bulbs and appliances, and install solar panels or double-paned windows.

California's new goal builds on landmark legislation signed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, which laid the groundwork for the first U.S. program to set up a cap-and-trade emissions system, aiming to reduce pollutants to 1990 levels by 2020.

That program, second only to the European Union's in size, enables polluters to buy and sell credits on a market, generating billions in revenues since the state held its first carbon auction in 2012.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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