Jerry Brown’s Green Promises for California

California has just exchanged its Governator for its once and future Governor Moonbeam. While outgoing governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been no slouch when it comes to supporting green technology, Jerry Brown has promised to keep the ball rolling with plans to create half a million new green jobs and support the installation of 20 GW of new solar power in the coming years.

So on the day of his inauguration, we ask — will Jerry Brown deliver on his promises, and break new ground in support for clean energy and energy efficiency? Or will the state’s budgetary crises and economic troubles put a crimp in Brown’s lofty goals? The new Governor will have big shoes to fill, given Schwarzenegger signed into law AB32, the state’s climate change bill, which he calls one of his biggest achievements of his term.

First of all, it’s important to note that Brown’s green track record goes back a long way. Back in 1975, when Brown first took office (replacing another movie star governor, Ronald Reagan), he instituted a series of green energy policies, including one of the first tax incentives for rooftop solar power, the first state appliance efficiency standards and the first green building codes.

While solar panels didn’t sprout on every rooftop, the state’s efficiency measures have kept per-capita energy consumption level, as compared to rising consumption in every other state.

In his more recent political incarnation as California Attorney General, Brown pushed to bring the state’s stringent clean air standards to a national stage, and co-sponsored a bill that would require the state’s big utilities to install energy storage systems to help manage intermittent renewable energy like solar and wind power.

Brown also came out early and strong in favor of AB32. During the gubernatorial elections, his Republican opponent and eBay billionaire Meg Whitman had supported a moratorium on the bill’s implementation, putting her on the outs with some of Silicon Valley’s biggest venture capital investors. Whether that helped lead to her defeat is hard to say — but the defeat of an oil industry-backed ballot initiative that would have indefinitely postponed AB32 may be evidence that the state’s voters favor the idea that energy and climate regulations will help create new jobs, rather than destroy jobs.

Brown certainly has promised that green regulations will lead to green jobs — 500,000 of them, according to an eight-point energy and environmental investment plan he unveiled in June. The plan includes a call for 12,000 MW of rooftop solar panels, 8,000 MW of utility-scale solar thermal power, and a push at the state level to ease permitting and construction of high-voltage transmission lines that will be needed to carry those far-off desert and mountain clean power resources to population centers on the coast. To help get it all done, he’s pledged to create the post of renewable energy czar whose task will be to ensure green goals and deadlines are met.

Just how Brown intends to achieve these goals remains to be seen, but certainly it won’t be easy. While California has been approving massive amounts of new utility-scale solar projects in recent months, it’s also seen the collapse of one major solar thermal project planned by Tessera Solar, showing the difficulty that such huge projects have in financing themselves in such a tough economic environment.

As for Brown’s promise to cut the time needed to plan and build new transmission lines to fewer than three years, that may well run afoul of legal opposition from environmental and NIMBY groups.

While Brown’s big solar power and energy czar plans have gotten most of the attention, several less-notices pieces of his energy plan may be easier to achieve. Those include calls for 6,500 MW of cogeneration, or combined heat and power projects, as well as more stringent regulations on appliance efficiency and building efficiency.

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