California’s Radical Move to Fight Climate Change Means Cheaper Solar Energy and Electric Cars for You

New legislation would slash the state’s petroleum use in half while ramping up renewable power.

(Photo: Steve Marcus/Reuters)

Feb 11, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Todd Woody is TakePart's editorial director, environment.

Attention, world: California just threw down the gauntlet on climate change.

State lawmakers moved Tuesday to implement an ambitious plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2025 to avert catastrophic climate change.

How?

A package of bills introduced by Democrats—who control the legislature, the governorship, and every statewide office—aims to cut petroleum use in half by 2030 and improve the energy efficiency of buildings 50 percent by that date. In 15 years, California would obtain half its electricity from renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind. The legislation makes good on a climate change agenda unveiled by Gov. Jerry Brown in January.

California is the world’s eighth-largest economy; as goes California, so goes the nation. If the state honors its pledges, that means cheaper solar panels, low-carbon cars, and other technologies will likely be coming to your state as companies ramp up to meet demand on the West Coast. California’s efforts in decades past to clean up its smoggy skies, for instance, led to national automotive emissions standards and jump-started the nascent electric car industry.

“This climate leadership package sets the foundation for a clean-energy economy to flourish,” Kevin de León, state Senate president pro tempore, said in a statement. “Clean tech companies in California are creating more jobs and investing more money than competitors in any other state, and these policies will keep this momentum going and expand its reach.”

Can California meet those lofty goals?

The state is on target to obtain a third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, helped in part by companies like Apple and Google that are investing billions in solar power plants and wind farms to power their operations.

California has long led the United States in energy-efficiency standards.

Cutting a growing population’s petroleum consumption by 50 percent would seem more problematic given that electric- and hydrogen-powered cars remain in the slow lane. The California Air Resources Board, which oversees climate-change initiatives, maintains the target is doable if the state can get people to drive 4 percent fewer miles, increase the fuel efficiency of cars to 35 miles per gallon, and at least double the number of low-carbon vehicles on the state’s roads.

With automakers such as General Motors and Tesla Motors promising to put a $30,000, 200-mile-range electric car in showrooms by 2017, that future may be closer than we think.