On Jan. 1, emergency regulations went into effect mandating stricter oversight for all hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") operations statewide. These rules, in accordance with Senate Bill 4, increase accountability by requiring industry to publicly disclose vital information, including drilling locations and chemicals used.
Yet SB 4 falls short in its vision. The bill accepts fossil fuels as the center of the state's long-term energy strategy by creating a framework for fracking to increase oil production. The oil and gas industry widely advertised impressive economic benefits from its expansion. These projections, however, have led the state astray.
A recent report, "Drilling California," reveals that the economic benefits of expanded fracking are based on overblown assumptions about future oil production. In fact, according to the report, real production may not even meet one-third of projected production.
Now, with debatable economic benefits -- and clear risks -- state policymakers must reassess the role of fracking in its energy economy. Expanding renewable energy generation represents a better opportunity to create a strong and lasting economic foundation.
Clean energy is already powering California's economy. Since 1995, it has grown 10 times faster than the overall economy and proved to be one of the few recession-resistant industries.
California's robust wind industry, which powers more than 2.1 million homes, has attracted more than $11 billion in capital investment, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Similarly, the state's solar industry employs more than 43,000 Californians and generated more than $2.6 billion in investment last year alone. And the nearly 200,000 homes and businesses turning the Golden State's abundant sunshine into clean, reliable, local electricity bring jobs and investment dollars.
But California is far from realizing the full potential of its renewable resources.
A November report by UCLA's Luskin Center for Innovation found enormous opportunity to further develop rooftop solar in Southern California. The report concluded that Los Angeles County, one of the strongest solar markets, could create nearly 30,000 additional jobs by developing just 5 percent of its rooftop solar potential.
Solar resources extend north, too. In collaboration with Pacific Gas & Electric, the Clean Coalition is spearheading a project to bring enough local solar online in a San Francisco neighborhood to power more than 10,000 homes. Over its lifetime, the Hunters Point Project will generate more than $200 million in regional economic output, keep $260 million in energy rates within the local community and save consumers more than $80 million by reducing the need to transmit energy long distances.
Forward-thinking utilities are allowing their customers to turn the state's renewable resources into significant economic growth. In Los Angeles, the city-owned utility created the CLEAN LA Solar Program to enable individuals, organizations and businesses to build local solar projects and sell the energy produced to the utility.
During the program's first week, the utility received applications to build more local solar projects than the entire program currently allows, highlighting a major economic opportunity. A fourfold expansion of this program promised by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will bring 18,000 new jobs and $2 billion in private investment to his city. A similar program in Sacramento brought enough local solar energy online to provide peak power to 100,000 homes without raising electric rates.
Today's decisions will affect Californians for decades. The expansion of fracking poses clear dangers to human and environmental health. Renewable energy, on the other hand, offers an unparalleled opportunity to power the state's economic engine. Californians should be proud of our state's leadership in clean energy thus far, but we need better policies to continue toward a truly smart energy future.