July 31, 2011 - From the July, 2011 issue

Gov. Jerry Brown Sets Ambitious Local Solar Goals for California

The following remarks are excerpted from California Governor Jerry Brown's address to the Governor's Conference on Local Renewable Energy Resources, held this month at UCLA. The event gathered high-level invitees to discuss how to achieve the governor's goal to develop 12,000 megawatts of locally generated and distributed solar electricity via the rooftops of homes and businesses around the state. As his speech makes clear, the governor is well aware of the political challenges ahead, but he also made clear that collaboration between the private sector and the public sector to make distributed generation affordable and efficient may require that the opposition to such changes be "crushed!"


Gov. Jerry Brown

There are a lot of people who should be remembered or known as we talk about this. This is not a one-person operation. It's the work of many people.

Interestingly enough, California got a major boost in energy conservation when the state legislature and governor Ronald Reagan in 1974 created the State Energy Resources Conservation Commission. It's good to remember that. Ronald Reagan got it going. He also helped undermine it when he became president by cutting back on subsidies for energy efficiency, appliance efficiency, and renewable energy. But it did start 37 years ago. That's good to remember.

I see my friend Richard Mullen in the audience. He hired the first employee of the State Energy Commission, way back in 1975, when this got started. It takes a lot of people, and it takes a lot of perseverance. I remember my eighth-grade teacher, sister Alice Joseph, once wrote on the backboard, "perseverance, perseverance, perseverance." It takes a long time to get anything done. Here we are now, discussing how to implement the plan for 12,000 megawatts of distributed power.

I have a book on my bookshelf in the governor's office called Brittle Power, by Amory and Hunter Lovins, talking about brittle power. What we're talking about today is the very opposite of brittle power. It's resilient. It's secure because it is so distributed. Facing these complexities and acronyms and looking through all the tales here, this is complicated stuff. It's hard to even talk about. In politics, complexity is the enemy of success. We deal in simplicity. We deal in shifting blame and responsibility. We deal in slogans. Yet to get anything done, it takes vision, but it also takes precision, it takes perseverance, and it takes handling a lot of different issues.

Certainly, as power is distributed, lots of issues come up, which we're going to talk about today and all of you are going to confront. We're going to get it resolved. I've been working on this 12,000-megawatt proposal over the last couple of years, including when I was attorney general. I asked my staff then, "What's the biggest solar initiative that we can conceptualize?" A group of people came up with the notion of 20,000 megawatts by 2020-8,000 megawatts of central-based solar power and 12,000 distributed. A company in Blythe, California, has already launched a 1,000-megawatt central-based solar plant, which will be the largest in the world. This plant will, by itself, double the amount of central-based solar power that exists in the world.

The goal to become the world leader in distributed solar power is a little harder. I believe that Germany has about 11,000 megawatts already. China is probably going to build faster than anyone else. I'm confident that California will be a leader in the United States and one of the leaders throughout the world.

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People talk about Texas. You know, everything is great in Texas. They don't have any regulations. They don't have taxes. Workers work basically for nothing. It's just a place to accumulate capital and then come to California and enjoy spending it. I like to think that whatever amount of oil they have over there in Texas, we have a hell of a lot more sun right here in California. Oil is just a bunch of fossilized vegetation that, over time, has become rather valuable. But the sun is more abundant, more powerful, and is capable of generating more power.

To get to that point, it's going to take a lot of photovoltaic installations. It's going to take battery technology advancements. It's going to take all manner of investments, risk-taking, and collaboration. This conference today is a major step towards the creation of jobs, the utilization of the sun, and dealing with what is going to be an increasing challenge posed by the effects of climate change. Even before we get to the consequences of the greenhouse gas buildup, we Americans are spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year importing foreign oil. That money could go back into our economy if we had domestic energy sources, which we do. That's the challenge today. This is really complex stuff. It's probably almost as complex as a nuclear reactor, but at the end of the day, it's more secure, more sustainable, and it's more Californian and more American because we can do it all here (even though we'll probably buy some photovoltaic materials from China and a few other places). We'll have to do something about that to. That will take money.

My final point is this: you read about the problems with deficits and cutbacks. We are cutting access to the courts. We're cutting supplemental income to the poor and the elderly. We're doing all sorts of retrenchment, but at the same time that we balance our budgets, we have to invest. We have to keep investing. California is still a place of innovation. It's a place where the tradition of creating entirely new industries still is very much alive. The movie industry, aerospace, computers, intranet, medical advances, stem cell research-these are all very important activities in California. I believe the distributed solar energy is another great breakthrough to invest in to generate jobs, generate energy security, and keep California among the innovative places in the world.

That's your challenge. And now we're about to get back to the nitty-gritty of making all of this work-with the regulations, the taxes, the public utilities commission processes, the interveners, and all the other stuff you have to go through. Your job is to figure out the path through the thicket. On the other side, we'll have our solar future, where everything is going to work right, the lion will lie with the lamb, and we'll turn swords into plowshares. Thank you.

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