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California’s Top 10 Climate and Energy Stories 2014

For the second year in a row, the California Energy Commission has compiled a Top 10 list of what we consider to be the biggest climate and energy stories for California. Below is the list for 2014 in no particular order.  Happy Holidays. 

1.    Advancing ZEVs: California made headlines this year for hitting a key milestone: more than 100,000 plug-in electric vehicles have been sold in the state. But, the start of the hydrogen market—with fuel cell vehicles being introduced by Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and tens of millions of dollars in investments to fund networks of hydrogen stations—got even more coverage. This month alone, the first retail hydrogen fueling station in Northern California funded by the Energy Commission opened for business on the same day that Toyota released its Mirai, which goes on sale in California next year.

2.    Delivering results from AB 32: One of the highlights this year was the 2014-15 budget appropriation of $832 million in cap-and-trade auction proceeds to support existing and pilot programs that will reduce greenhouse gases, with a particular emphasis on assisting disadvantaged communities. Another 2014 highlight was residential Investor Owned Utility (IOU) customers receiving “climate dividends” totaling $70.  In January, California’s cap-and-trade program was linked to Quebec’s and the first joint auction was held in November, demonstrating that carbon pricing works across international borders.

3.    Addressing increase in volume of crude-by-rail: The amount of crude by rail (CBR) that came into California increased dramatically in 2013 with volumes for the first three quarters of this year up 31 percent compared to the same period in 2013. The California Energy Commission projects that CBR deliveries could increase to as much of a quarter of the state’s total imports by 2016, in comparison to 0.2 percent in 2012. The approved 2014-15 budget included money for the Oil Spill Response Program--$6.7 million for the Oil Spill Prevention and Administration Fund and 38 positions to address the increased risk of oil spills. The funding will be supported by expanding the existing 6.5 cent-per-barrel fee, currently collected at marine ports, to all crude oil sent to California refineries. The budget also allocated money for railroad safety — $1.1 million to the Public Utilities Commission Transportation Reimbursement Account and seven positions to increase inspections of railroad bridges, tanker rail cars, and railroad track related to the expected increased transport of crude oil in California.

4.    Experiencing prolonged drought and fire season: California entered its third year of a drought and saw its fire season extended to 18 months with a 26 percent increase in wildfires this year compared to 2013. The King Fire that started burning in September was the second most costly fire to fight in the state at more than $53 million. While it was debatable whether current drought conditions are a direct result of climate change, there was little debate that the drought was intensified by record-breaking temperatures that evaporated critically important snow pack and dried out vegetation. And there’s no debating that those conditions helped create a fire season this year that was dramatically worse.

5.    Using new solar energy generation to offset drought-related reductions in hydroelectricity supply: In January, the Governor declared a drought State of Emergency and cut to zero the amount of water initially allocated to the State Water Project. The amount was raised to 5 percent in April and the 2015 allocation was just set at 10 percent. While the drought reduced the supply generated by hydroelectricity, the state’s increasing supply of solar helped fill in the gap. Since December of last year, more than 1,000 megawatts of solar capacity has come online, including rooftop solar and electricity generated from utility-scale plants such as the Desert Sunlight plant in the Sonoran Desert.  

6.    Leading on Energy Storage: In September, Southern California Edison announced the largest energy storage project in North America and plans to use 250 megawatts of storage as part of its Long-Term Procurement Planning process.  Earlier in the year, EnerVault unveiled the first-of-its-kind iron-chromium megawatt-scale flow battery, helping to solidify California’s role leading the market on energy storage, which is key to enabling the increased use of renewables.

7.    Accomplishing state and federal conservation and climate goals via draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan: In September, Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Senator Barbara Boxer and others helped release the draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan that was five years in the making and covers 22.5 million acres of the California desert. Written by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S Fish and Wildlife Services as well as the California Energy Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife, the plan aims to combat climate change by accelerating the building of large renewable energy projects while setting aside millions of acres for conservation.

8.   Starting Energy Imbalance Market: In November, the California Independent System Operator Corporation (ISO) and Portland-based PacifiCorp began operating the Energy Imbalance Market (EIM), which covers six states and is the first of its kind in the west. The real-time market allows grid operators to more efficiently dispatch power across a large region and will dramatically expand the market for power generated by wind and solar.

9.    Influencing What Happens Globally: In September, the Governor participated in the U.N. Climate Summit in New York City and signed a “Price on Carbon” declaration. The Governor traveled to Mexico, and signed climate and energy agreements with China and Mexico that will create jobs, drive investments and reduce emissions.  California is also working with other subnational entities to build momentum for an international climate agreement in Paris at next December’s U.N. COP21.

10.  Gaining new opportunities to demonstrate what works: The U.S. China climate agreement and Clean Power Plan will present new opportunities for California to demonstrate policies and programs that are proven to reduce carbon emissions: our historic climate law featuring a cap-and-trade program, our Renewables Portfolio Standard, our energy efficiency programs and our Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Given these two federal announcements, California is expected to play an even greater role developing policies that get adopted domestically. 

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The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency created by the Legislature in 1974.
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