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Environment

California making progress decarbonizing energy generation but with mixed results

California greenhouse gas emissions fell between 2019 and 2020, a side benefit from the COVID-19 pandemic. KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson has more on the results of the latest California Green Innovation Index.<br/>

California greenhouse gas emissions fell in 2020, a side benefit from the COVID-19 shutdowns.

The latest California Green Innovation Index found the state enjoyed some pandemic related improvements, but those gains may be lost when the 2021 numbers are calculated.

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The nonpartisan think tank Next 10’s 14th annual index found greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector fell 8.7%. That is primarily linked to the COVID-19 shutdowns which greatly reduced emissions from vehicles.

Transportation emissions fell for the third straight year in 2020 in part because of COVID-19 but also because electric vehicle sales rose.

The report also found a huge jump in utility-scale battery storage projects.

Those batteries allow utilities to capture and store energy during the day, when there is plenty of renewable power flowing into the grid. The batteries can release that power when the sun sets and solar power fades.

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But the news is not all good.

“For all of the successes and for all of the cuts we’ve made in the transportation sector, we are generating more carbon emissions in 2020 from in-state power generation than when we were a year before. That’s a bit disheartening,” said Patrick Adler, of Beacon Economics.

Emissions from in-state electricity production rose 6.3% from 2019 to 2020.

Summer heat waves and a regional drought reduced some hydro power production forcing the state to fire up more fossil fuel power plants according to Adler.

Green economy investments continue to drive the state’s economy according to the index.

The state invested $2.76 billion in four climate-related programs that returned an economic output measured at $5.35 billion.

Those included the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project and the Affordable Homes and Sustainable Communities program and two more energy related programs.

Those investments in green technology created 8,521 jobs.

“We want to decarbonize buildings. We want to decarbonize transportation with (electric vehicles) but we need to have a grid that’s getting cleaner and cleaner,” said Noel Perry, the founder of Next 10.

Perry pointed out there is good news and things to be concerned about.

“Our grid has been a leader across the country but of late we‘ve slowed down,” Perry said. “So one challenge if you will and opportunity for our leaders in the state is to really begin to re-ramp up renewable energy creation and growth.”

The index also concludes that wildfires continue to be a major source of carbon emissions. The report found that climate change fueled fires produced more greenhouse gas emissions than ever in 2020.