California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 423 to accelerate the deployment of “firm zero-carbon resources” for electricity production.

The bill was one of 24 signed Friday alongside a $15 billion spending package focused on climate and clean energy efforts, as well as wildfire and drought resiliency.

SB 423 defines firm zero-carbon resources as “electrical resources that can individually, or in combination, deliver electricity with high availability for the expected duration of multiday extreme or atypical weather events and facilitate integration of eligible renewable energy resources into the electrical grid and the transition to a zero-carbon electrical grid.”

The bill requires the California Energy Commission (CEC) to submit to the State Legislature by Dec. 31, 2023 an assessment of the firm zero-carbon resources “that support a clean, reliable, and resilient electrical grid in California” on the path toward meeting the state’s goal of a carbon-free power grid by 2045.

A recent study on California’s clean firm generation commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund found that the state could continue to use gas-fired generation if the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were captured and sequestered underground.

“Alternatively, gas power plants could be converted to burn clean fuels, such as hydrogen, which might be made via electrolysis with solar power, reformed from natural gas while leaving waste CO2 to be sequestered underground, or produced from gasification of agricultural and forestry residues or crops.”

SB 423, meanwhile, does not mention natural gas by name. It instead notes the importance “of developing a diverse set of additional clean energy resources, including geothermal, offshore wind, longer duration energy storage, and cost-effective firm baseload and firm flexible zero-carbon resources, to most efficiently and cost-effectively meet the state’s clean energy goals.”

The bill goes on to state that, “Several promising zero-carbon resources are emerging, which can provide firm baseload or firm flexible electricity, including electrolytic hydrogen and new long-duration and multiday energy storage resources.

“California also has world-class geothermal and offshore wind potential.”

Its lofty goals notwithstanding, California appears unlikely to ditch fossil fuels in the power sector, especially natural gas, anytime soon.

The Department of Energy this month approved a request by California’s power grid operator to dispatch additional gas-fired capacity beyond currently permitted levels to make up for projected supply shortfalls amid the current dry and hot conditions. 

The clean firm electricity bill acknowledges the limits of intermittent renewables, declaring that while “California is a global leader in solar energy and lithium ion battery storage development, and these resources are increasingly and urgently needed…additional resources are needed to provide for a clean, reliable, and resilient electrical grid.”

‘Largest Ever’ Investment

The $15 billion climate package, part of Newsom’s $100 billion California Comeback Plan, constitutes “the largest such investment in state history – tackling a wide array of climate impacts facing the state,” Newsom’s office said. 

It includes $3.9 billion to accelerate the deployment of electric vehicles (EVs), with “funding to put 1,000 zero-emission drayage trucks, 1,000 zero-emission school buses and 1,000 transit buses, and the necessary infrastructure, on California roads – prioritizing projects that benefit disadvantaged communities,” officials said.

The package also funds consumer rebates for new EV purchases and incentives for low-income Californians to replace their old car with a new or used “advanced technology” car. Newsom last year set a goal for all cars and passenger trucks sold in the state to be zero-emission by 2035.

The approved $15 billion outlay also designates $1.5 billion for wildfire and forest resilience, $5.2 billion for water and drought resilience, $3.7 billion for resilience to climate risks such as extreme heat and sea level rise, and $1.1 billion to support “climate smart agriculture.”

The flurry of bills signed by Newsom on Sunday included legislation to accelerate offshore wind deployment along the California coast. 

Assembly Bill (AB) 525 requires CEC “to evaluate and quantify the maximum feasible capacity of offshore wind to achieve reliability, ratepayer, employment, and decarbonization benefits and to establish offshore wind planning goals for 2030 and 2045, as specified.”

SB 27, meanwhile, will promote efforts to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and sequester it underground. The bill requires the California Air Resources Board to establish CO2 removal targets for 2030 and beyond in line with guidance from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

SB 47, for its part, increases funding to advance the plugging, abandonment and remediation of hazardous or idle-deserted oil and gas wells.