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Tech-neutral energy standards emerge as bipartisan climate policy

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., arrives in the Capitol for the Senate policy luncheons on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.
Sen. John Barrasso. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

California Assemblyman Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) is proposing a new Enhanced Clean Energy Standard (CES) as the next step in curbing carbon emissions in California.

The big picture: Mayes' bill would create an enforceable 80% CES that's "technology neutral," meaning that utility companies would be required to limit greenhouse gas emissions, but would be free to choose the technology with which to do so. This approach has been popular among conservatives recently, and may please progressive climate activists, too.

How it works: The legislation sets a zero-emissions standard, but doesn't specify any preferred energy technology. This tech-neutral approach would help control costs of de-carbonization by allowing businesses to choose any qualifying zero-emissions energy source based on affordability and business needs. That leaves the door open for non-renewable, zero-emissions sources to qualify for compliance plans, including nuclear, hydro, carbon capture and market entry for yet-to-be-discovered energy technology.

Conservatives have been advocating for this tech-neutral concept in a number of ways:

Between the lines: Republicans are generally more comfortable with climate action when policies go beyond wind and solar solutions to include all energy and technology options for minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. Tech-neutral advocates hope that preserving as much freedom of choice as possible will make climate change legislation both economically practical and environmentally effective.

  • This approach can also accelerate affordable decarbonization because it allows all existing zero-emissions energy technology to compete.

The bottom line: Mayes’ bill may be the best chance for electric utility companies and climate change advocates to cooperate on meeting California’s climate goals: Currently, there is a binding requirement for 60% of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030 and a non-enforceable goal of 100% of electricity from zero-emissions sources by 2045. Mayes' bill would increase the enforceable zero-emissions target to 80% by 2038.

Sarah E. Hunt is the co-founder and CEO of Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy.