Hugely expensive green mandates will hit poor Californians the hardest.
In April, civil-rights groups sued to stop some of California’s policies designed to address climate change. Then on Monday, California governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 100, which requires the state’s utilities to obtain all their electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045. Before signing the bill, Brown said the legislation was “sending a message to California and to the world that we’re going to meet the Paris agreement.” In fact, it will only increase the hardships that California’s climate policy imposes on the poor, as detailed in the lawsuit.
High electricity prices should be a concern for California policymakers, since electric rates in the state are already 60 percent higher than those in the rest of the country. According to a recent study by the Berkeley-based think tank Environmental Progress, between 2011 and 2017 California’s electricity rates rose more than five times as fast as those in the rest of the U.S. SB 100 will mean even higher electricity prices for Californians.
In addition to cost, the all-renewable push set forth in SB 100 faces huge challenges with regard to energy storage. Relying solely on renewables will require a battery system large enough to handle massive seasonal fluctuations in wind and solar output. (Wind-energy and solar-energy production in California is roughly three times as great during the summer months as it is in the winter.) According to the Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based energy-policy think tank, for California to get 80 percent of its electricity from renewables would require about 9.6 terawatt-hours of storage. This would require about 500 million Tesla Powerwalls, or roughly 15 Powerwalls for every resident. A full 100 percent–renewable electricity mandate would require some 36.3 terawatt-hours of storage, or about 60 Powerwalls for every resident of California.
Increasing reliance on renewable energy also means increasing land-use conflicts. Since 2015, more than 200 government entities from Maine to California have voted to reject or restrict the encroachment of wind-energy projects. In 2015 the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of an ordinance banning large wind turbines in the county’s unincorporated areas. Three other California counties — San Diego, Solano, and Inyo — have also passed restrictions on Big Wind. Last year, the head of the California Wind Energy Association lamented that “we’re facing restrictions like that all around the state,” adding that “it’s pretty bleak in terms of the potential for new development.” The result of the anti-wind restrictions can be seen in the numbers. Last year, California had about 5,600 megawatts of installed wind capacity. That’s roughly 150 megawatts less than what the state had back in 2013.
The land-use problem facing Big Wind in California is the same throughout the rest of the U.S. and Europe: People in cities like the idea of wind turbines. People in rural areas increasingly don’t want anything to do with them. Those rural landowners don’t want to see the red blinking lights atop those massive turbines, all night, every night, for the rest of their lives. Nor do they want to be subjected to the harmful noise — both audible and inaudible — that they produce.
Even before SB 100 passed, though, California’s leaders were already facing a legal backlash from minority leaders over the high cost of the state’s climate policies. On April 27, The Two Hundred, a coalition of civil-rights leaders, filed a lawsuit in state court against the California Air Resources Board, seeking an injunction against some of the state’s carbon dioxide–reduction rules. The 102-page lawsuit declares that California’s “reputation as a global climate leader is built on the state’s dual claims of substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously enjoying a thriving economy. Neither claim is true.”
The gist of the lawsuit is this: California’s high housing, transportation, and energy costs are discriminatory because they are a regressive tax on the poor. The suit claims that the state’s climate laws violate the Fair Employment and Housing Act because CARB’s new greenhouse-gas-emissions rules on housing units in the state “have a disparate negative impact on minority communities and are discriminatory against minority communities and their members.” The suit also claims the state’s climate laws are illegal under the Federal Housing Act, again because their effect is felt predominantly by minority communities. It also makes a constitutional claim that minorities are being denied equal protection under the law because California’s climate regulations are making affordable housing unavailable to them.