California Knows Best: What's Good For The Environment Can Also Be Great For The Economy

Been there, done that. As states across the nation scramble to adjust their energy portfolios to meet increasingly stringent carbon emission limits and other climate change mandates, our experience in California since 2006 could prove to be a useful guide.

Back then, we heard the dire warnings that our groundbreaking law curtailing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions - the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) - would be economically catastrophic for the Golden State. But almost 10 years later, the many ominous predictions from opponents of clean energy have fallen flat.

California is on track to meet the near-term goals set by AB 32--limiting the state's GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020-- resulting in less air pollution and cleaner water and soil. What's more, our economy has not only survived, it has shown remarkable progress in recent years. This law and other forward-thinking policies have created a demand for private-sector investment in clean energy solutions without the economic Armageddon that the naysayers predicted. As the renewable energy industry and other "clean tech" fields have expanded, so have 21st-century job opportunities for our vast workforce.

Today, we face another chance to take a major step forward toward a low-carbon future. Senate Bill 32 (Pavley), proposed in 2014 and most recently amended in 2016, would bring about additional GHG cuts and provide even greater propulsion to our clean tech economy. The bill looks to reduce GHG by extending the long-term climate pollution target to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The usual suspects are once again sounding alarm bells, but thanks to our experience, California knows better.

Laws like AB 32 have helped California position ourselves on the cutting edge of sustainable development and green innovation - and we continue to reap the benefits. Our clean tech companies create more jobs and invest more money in the economy than similar companies in any other state, with more than 500,000 Californians now employed by the clean energy industry. Not only does this emerging field offer higher-than-average wages and new opportunities in construction and manufacturing, it has begun to create a valuable new export economy. Our international leadership on climate change is not just influential--it's marketable. The cutting-edge technologies and know-how created here in California are becoming increasingly valuable in a global market that is hungry for green solutions.

As nations around the world implement their own climate change policies, California companies have a competitive advantage thanks to the years spent developing new innovations and solutions. And as their profits rise, these companies continue to invest in new technology, innovations and training.

We've seen this kind of investment in green innovation right here in Los Angeles, where the Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is phasing out polluting coal-fired power--currently 50 percent of its energy portfolio--and expanding its reliance on locally produced clean energy through the CLEAN LA Solar feed-in tariff program (FiT), which takes advantage of the abundant solar energy available on more than 10,000 acres of rooftops in Los Angeles to supply zero-carbon, renewable energy to the city.

A study by UCLA and USC found that approximately 26 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions would be displaced by expanding the FiT and other solar programs to 1,500 megawatts (MW)--a goal that the researchers say will be feasible with the proper tools and resources. Major FiT projects recently announced include the Westmont Drive buildings, which will generate 16.4 megawatts of solar energy for LADWP customers, CRAFTED at the Port of L.A., which is expected to gross $5.6 million over 20 years, and the U.S. Postal Service Processing and Distribution Center in Los Angeles, which began installing 31,000 solar panels this month.

These initiatives not only help California meet stringent GHG reduction goals, they catalyze economic growth and private investment in the areas that need it most. Of all the FiT installations, more than 40 percent are located in low-income areas with a need for economic expansion. Experts project that when the FiT program is expanded to 600 MW, it will create more than 11,000 green jobs in the Los Angeles basin and add an additional $200 million more in direct private investment.

Members of the Los Angeles Business Council and the CLEAN LA Solar Coalition recognize the potential of sustainable practices to continue driving economic growth. But while California has taken the lead on sustainable development for the moment, we must not take for granted the forward-thinking policies that have brought us here. To sustain our global leadership on climate change and continue to enjoy the robust economic benefits from our burgeoning green tech industry, we will need to forge a strategic path forward, drawing on experience from existing programs and relying on consistent, clear policy to incentivize future green development.

Innovative new proposals such as Senate Bill 32 will propel our state into a healthier future--both environmentally and economically. As always, there will be plenty of opposition to change. But California must stay the course and forge ahead with the confidence that comes from past experience, which assures us that not only are cutting-edge sustainability policies good for our planet, they're good for business.