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  • Writer's pictureCorey L. Wilson

A Clean Energy Employment Rebound After COVID-19 is Coming (Part 2 of 2)

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

The U.S. can deliver 90% of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2035, according to a new report from the University of California, Berkeley, and experts say accelerating clean energy deployments could also play an important role in the country's economic recovery.

Building out renewables to achieve this target will add more than 500,000 jobs per year as well as $1.7 trillion in investments into the economy, without raising customer bills, the report found.

The findings mirror arguments that a coalition of California energy groups—including Advanced Energy Economy, California Energy Storage Alliance, and the Solar Energy Industries Association—made in a letter to state lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this month.

With policy support, the clean energy sector could restore over 100,000 jobs in California and unlock billions of dollars in private investments, the groups said. They urged decision-makers to create an inter-agency working group that could look at ways to promote this growth, including by accelerating the deployment of renewables and achieving California's 2030 climate goals ahead of schedule.

The Clean Energy Economy Was a Huge Reason for California's Success

"The clean energy economy was a huge reason for California's success coming out of the 2008-09 recession. We did it before, we can do it again," Michael Colvin, director of regulatory and legislative affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund's (EDF) California energy program, told Utility Dive. EDF is a member of the coalition.

California has suffered more clean energy job losses than any other state by huge margin, he said, and putting the sector back to work can help stimulate the rest of the economy.

"Energy is such a foundational input to the economy that if you can stimulate that, you end up stimulating a lot of other things simultaneously," Colvin added.

One way for the state to do that would be through its integrated resource planning proceeding, according to Colvin. In March, the California Public Utilities Commission approved a decision asking load-serving entities to craft plans around two greenhouse gas reduction targets for the electric sector—a 46 MMT target, and another for 38 MMT. Opting for the lower target is "an immediately obvious" measure to help accelerate clean energy deployments, he said.

Uncertainties Around the Ability to Get to a 90% Carbon-Free Electricity by 2035

There are, however, uncertainties around the ability to get to a 90% carbon-free electricity by 2035, especially because that goal is dependent on a set of policy changes, according to Wooley. Some of those changes are outlined in the accompanying paper from Energy Innovation.

A key action would be adopting a federal standard to reach 55% carbon-free electricity by 2025, 75% by 2030, 90% by 2035, and 100% by 2045, as well as extending investment and production tax credits for clean energy resources and tying them to battery storage as well. A federal standard will provide some investment certainty and market consistency to help build clean energy resources at the required scale, Aggarwal said.

The scenario's reliance on federal policy changes is "a big if," according to Wooley.

"Under the current Congress, that seems pretty unlikely. But we're not that far away from what potentially could be an important political change at the federal level," he said.

Another policy measure involves utility and government-backed refinancing of retired coal equity and debt.

"There's actually a lot of undepreciated balance on the remaining coal fleet that utilities have on their balance sheets," Aggarwal said.

This is the second of a two-part article and the content is courtesy of Kavya Balaraman at Utility Dive and was published on June 9, 2020.

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