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Freeze Frame - California Pauses Shift from Natural Gas Amid Concerns About Power Shortages

The U.S.’s effort to prioritize low-carbon energy entails some bumps and bruises along the way, an indication that the energy industry’s trilemma of availability, reliability and affordability can conflict with today’s economic realities and environmental priorities, even in a state like California with abundant financial and clean-energy resources and a commitment to decarbonization. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the state’s lofty goals to phase out fossil fuels, why it has been forced to put its transition away from natural gas and nuclear power on hold, and some of the biggest challenges ahead for the Golden State.

As we said in Can’t Help Falling in Love, the first blog in this series, the challenges of trying to shift away from oil and gas are being felt now in Hawaii, where a commitment to expanding energy production from renewable sources and tamping down the use of fossil fuels — while also keeping prices under control and reducing pollution — is turning out to be no easy feat. Today we turn our attention to California, the state with the most ambitious plans for moving away from fossil fuels and to an economy predominantly powered by renewables and zero-carbon power. (We last looked at the state’s efforts to manage the energy transition away from natural gas a few years ago in California Dreamin’.)

Let’s start with a 50,000-foot look at the state’s overall decarbonization goals before delving into some of the specific targets that have been put forward. The state’s strategy has three fundamental elements, according to Key Challenges for California’s Energy Future, published in June 2023 by the California Council on Science & Technology (CCST):

  • Maximize efficiency and electrify energy use across sectors to the greatest extent possible.
  • Provide affordable, accessible, and reliable carbon-free electricity for a highly electrified economy.
  • Decarbonize activities that cannot be electrified by using clean fuels, efficiency, conservation, and better land-use planning and infrastructure.

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