California Energy Commission's Climate Change Activities

California energy regulators have known for years that energy policy and environmental policy are inextricably linked. For more than 30 years, California has had aggressive energy efficiency and renewable energy policies, in order to minimize the impact of energy consumption on the environment. California's aggressive motor vehicle air quality standards have long exceeded the minimum federal requirements, and the state continues to push the federal government to allow us to keep exceeding those standards.

In large measure, California's programs have been motivated by concerns about the environment. Those concerns are exemplified in the context of global climate change. California's Climate Change Research Center states that during the last 50 years, winter and spring temperatures have been warmer, spring snow levels in lower and mid-elevations have dropped, the snowpack has been melting one to four weeks earlier, and sea levels are projected to rise. Not only will there be a change in average temperatures but there is a projected increase in extreme conditions such as a rising incidence of "heat storms." While these trends will impact all of us, they will have an especially large consequence for California's agricultural industry.

The impact on the energy infrastructure in the state is likely to be significant as well. Lower levels of snowpack and associated decreases and changes in the spring runoff will affect hydroelectric generation. A large number of critical power plants are located at sea level along the California coast to take advantage of nearby cooling water and even small rises in sea level will impact those facilities. Increased use of air-conditioning in homes, especially those built further inland and away from coastal areas, creates rising demand for electricity, as well as additional load on transmission and distribution lines to transport power to these areas. This increase in inland home construction also creates a feedback effect in terms of increasing emissions from automobiles traveling greater distances to transport people to work in urban coastal areas.

Energy Commission Role in Climate Change

The California Energy Commission has played an important role since 1988 in coordinating state activities addressing climate change and continues to play a major role in the state's efforts. Among those activities, the Commission is or has:

  • Actively involved in a number of activities supporting implementation of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) and other climate activities. Most of the ongoing responsibilities achieve reductions in greenhouse emissions through energy efficiency, renewable energy and alternative transportation fuel programs.
  • Serving on the Climate Action Team (CAT) - Energy Commission leads the CAT Land Use and Local Government (LUSCAT) sector group and participates on 11 CAT subgroups responsible for developing action items that will result in quantifiable greenhouse gas emission reductions.
  • Conducted a joint proceeding with the California Public Utilities Commission on AB 32 implementation in the electric sector and made joint recommendation to the ARB in February 2008 (currently out for comments until March 13th).
  • Conducting scientific research on climate change through the Public Interest Energy Research Program (PIER) and the California Climate Change Center.
  • Developing Climate Research, Development, Demonstration, and Deployment "Road Map" with the Air Resources Board and other state agencies to achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction goals and support adaptation goals.
  • Providing technical support to the California Climate Action Registry in developing greenhouse gas emission protocols, qualifying third party organizations to provide technical assistance and certification of emissions baselines and inventories.
  • Supporting Air Resources Board's statewide greenhouse gas emissions inventory for updates and accuracy.
  • Participating in the working groups of the Western Climate Initiative to identify, evaluate and implement collective and cooperative ways to reduce greenhouse gases in the West (including portions of Canada and Mexico).
  • Providing policy guidance and monitoring international, national and regional developments, and activities impacting clean energy and climate change issues.
  • Investigating the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

The Energy Commission has also published numerous reports under its PIER Program and by staff. For those reports, please visit the Energy Commission's publications database.

Background Information

The California Energy Commission's involvement in Climate Change dates back more than 20 years.

In 1988, the Energy Commission was made the lead agency for climate change issues under Assembly Bill 4420 (Statues of 1988). The Energy Commission was also statutorily directed to prepare and maintain the state's inventory of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.

Senate Bill 1771, chaptered in September of 2000, specified the creation of the non-profit organization, the California Climate Action Registry. The Registry helps various California entities' to establish greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions baselines. Also, the Registry enables participating entities to voluntarily record their annual GHG emissions inventories.

On October 13, 2001, Governor Gray Davis signed California Senate Bill 527. This bill required the California Energy Commission to provide guidance to the California Registry on a number of issues, such as, developing GHG emissions protocols, qualifying third-party organizations to provide technical assistance, and qualifying third-party organizations to provide certification of emissions baselines and inventories.

On June 1, 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Executive Order # S-3-05, which established the following greenhouse gas targets:

  • By 2010, Reduce to 2000 Emission Levels
  • By 2020, Reduce to 1990 Emission Levels
  • By 2050, Reduce to 80 percent Below 1990 Levels

To meet the targets, the Governor directed the Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate with the Secretary of the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, Secretary of the Department of Food and Agriculture, Secretary of the Resources Agency, Chairperson of the Air Resources Board, Chairperson of the Energy Commission and President of the Public Utilities Commission.

AB 32 and SB 1368

The most important development in California energy policy in the past two years, if not the past several decades, is the arrival at consensus that California must act to mitigate its greenhouse gas emissions, in order to reduce the impact of climate change. In 2006, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed two landmark pieces of legislation with far-reaching implications for energy policy.

The most comprehensive is the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, Assembly Bill 32, which sets an economy-wide cap on California greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by no later than 2020. This is an aggressive goal that represents approximately an 11 percent reduction from current emissions levels and nearly a 30 percent reduction from projected business-as-usual levels in 2020. Figure 1 illustrates that 25 percent of the state's greenhouse gas emissions is attributable to electricity generation while 38 percent is attributed to the transportation sector.

Meeting this goal requires the cooperation and teamwork of multiple sectors of the California economy, including the electricity, natural gas, and transportation sectors.

The second important piece of climate change legislation from 2006 is Senate Bill 1368 (Stats. 2006, Ch. 598), which requires the Public Utilities Commission and the Energy Commission to implement an emissions performance standard for all retail providers of electricity in the state. For any long-term commitment (five years or longer) to buy or build generation to serve California retail customers, emissions must be limited to 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) per megawatt-hour of electricity delivered. This is roughly equivalent to the emissions from a new combined cycle natural gas turbine. The law also provides for the possibility that the CO2 emissions from a generator could be permanently captured and stored, thus not counting towards the performance standard limit for that generator.

More information about the state activities can be found on the California Climate Change Portal.

For more information about the state's response to Climate Change please contact the people below.

Climate Change Policy
Climate Action Team

John Blue
Climate Change Program Manager
Calif. Environmental Protection Agency
Phone: 916-445-9478

News Media Inquiries:

Calif. Environmental Protection Agency
Communications and External Affairs Office Phone: 916-324-9670

Climate Change Research

Guido Franco
Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) Program
Calif. Energy Commission
Phone: 916-654-4542

Mailing Address

Calif. Energy Commission
Climate Change and California
1516 Ninth Street, MS-29
Sacramento, CA 95814

Additional Information


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