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California set a goal of 100 percent clean energy, and now other states may follow its lead

Sammy Roth, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

It's been less than four months since California committed to getting all of its electricity from climate-friendly sources by 2045. But the idea is already catching on in other states.

At least nine governors taking their oaths of office this month, from Nevada to Michigan to New York, campaigned on 100 percent clean energy, or have endorsed the target since it was enshrined in California law. The District of Columbia also set a 100 percent clean energy goal last month. So did Xcel Energy, a Minneapolis-based utility that serves 3.6 million electricity customers across eight Western and Midwestern states.

The policy's growing popularity is driven in part by market trends and technological advances that make it easier to envision a future in which fossil fuels are no longer burned for electricity. But experts say California's recent passage of Senate Bill 100 is also playing a role.

"Sometimes other states don't want to admit that they're looking to California for leadership. But they really are," said Carla Frisch from the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based think tank that has worked with cities and states on energy policy.

As the world's fifth-largest economy, California wields enormous power to influence environmental policy nationally and even globally. The state's actions have reshaped how industries do business, changed people's habits and set the agenda for other states and countries. Automakers, for instance, have been forced to build increasingly fuel-efficient cars for decades because of California's authority to set tailpipe-emission rules stricter than those of the federal government.

The Golden State's aggressive policies can also prompt a backlash. In the four-plus years since California lawmakers voted to ban single-use plastic bags at most stores, nine states have passed laws blocking local governments from enacting such bans.

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California's role as a global leader was front of mind of then-state Sen. Kevin de Leon as he crafted the 100 percent climate-friendly energy legislation. The Los Angeles Democrat had previously written a bill raising the state's clean energy target to 50 percent by 2030. But within a few years, it had become clear the state could meet that goal far sooner than expected, without the massive economic disruption opponents had predicted.

"California has long shown the rest of the nation how to protect the environment while growing the economy," De Leon said. "If California can do it, everyone else can."

What's unique about 100 percent clean energy, supporters say, is that it's caught on with lawmakers and the public in a way other climate change policies haven't.

Many economists say a market-based tool that puts a price on planet-warming carbon emissions is the cheapest way to fight climate change. But even in places with broad support for climate action, it's been difficult to build support for those types of policies. Voters in Washington state, for instance, overwhelmingly rejected a carbon tax in 2016 and again in 2018.

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