“We will not grow our economy in spite of our climate goals, but because of our climate goals.” That was the message from Kish Rajan, director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, to the nearly 300 business and government leaders gathered in Sacramento August 6 to discuss the “Pathway to 2050” for energy and climate in California.
With the subtitle “delivering on the promise,” the second annual Pathway to 2050 event featured speakers and panels addressing subjects ranging from financing options for disruptive technologies to utility business model and regulatory reform, all geared toward accelerating advanced energy business growth to meet California’s goal of 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
In his keynote address at Pathway, Opower president and co-founder Alex Laskey reflected on his company’s founding in California (it is now based in Arlington, VA) and the state’s continuing importance as a leading state for advanced energy. “I spend most of my week on the road, and no place comes up more frequently in conversation than California,” said Laskey, referring to the state’s energy conservation record. Noting that Opower still employs a workforce of more than 200 in the state serving 11 electric utilities, Laskey added, “We’re just getting started in California. Our company’s story, this industry’s story, could not have happened anywhere else in the world.”
In another highlight of the day, AEE Institute board member and AEE co-founder Tom Steyer conducted a “fireside chat” with Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, on opportunities for California to collaborate with other states on emissions reduction, in light of EPA’s proposed “Clean Power Plan” to cut emissions from the electric power sector. It has been California’s intention all along, she told Steyer, “to be a leader, not to be an island.”
The day wrapped up with a panel of state legislators – Senators Kevin de León and Fran Pavley and Assemblymember Mike Gatto – where there was much discussion of calls to delay bringing vehicle fuels under the AB 32 cap-and-trade system. (Assemblymember Henry Perea, sponsor of a bill to that effect, was scheduled to be on the panel but was unable to participate.)
“Delay is not an option,” said Sen. Pavley, author of AB 32. Assemblymember Gatto warned that it is lawmakers who will face the wrath of the public if gasoline prices skyrocket. “That is the tension we are seeing and it won’t go away.” But Sen. De León said that it is low-income neighborhoods that suffer “disproportionate impact” of truck and auto emissions, with the six freeways that criss-cross his district acting like “a serpent that chokes” his community. To De León, it was high time to have vehicle fuels join investor-owned utilities in the cap-and-trade system, as a “question of fairness.”
In the days leading up to Pathway, Bay Area News Group, which includes the Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times, published a guest commentary by AEE CEO Graham Richard and board member Arno Harris, CEO of Recurrent Energy, headlined “California needs a pathway to achieving energy and climate goals.”
“California is at a critical juncture,” wrote Richard and Harris. “The state’s commitment to energy progress is about to be tested. The state is well on its way to hitting its targets for 2020 – 33 percent of electricity from renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions reduced to 1990 levels. The goals for 2050 are another matter.”
With participants ranging from company CEOs to utility commission members taking part in the full day’s program, the commitment to finding that pathway to California’s 2050 goals – as well as excitement about the economic growth that will come from creating a future of secure, clean, affordable energy – was palpable.
“This event shows how much interest and opportunity there is in this industry and how it is transforming not only California but the rest of the world,” said Robert B. Weisenmiller, chair of the California Energy Commission, who participated in the mainstage panel on “Moving Toward a 21stCentury Electricity System in California.” “We have moved from energy tinkerers and experimentalists to seeing serious multi-billion dollar investments and clean energy moving into the mainstream. This event is helping California build on its leadership to meet our future climate and business development goals.”
Photos of the conference can be found on our Facebook page. Stay tuned for videos of the sessions!