On January 4, 2017, at the start of this year’s legislative session, Assemblymember Marc Levine of Marin County introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 79, which is intended to cap the amount of coal-generated electricity used in California. Under the current version of AB 79, a maximum of 6 percent of electricity consumed in California could be coal-generated by 2018 and a maximum of 3 percent by 2024.  The bill would eliminate the use of coal-generated electricity from California entirely by 2026.

Although not obvious on its face, AB 79 addresses a non-issue in California, because the amount of coal-generated electricity is already almost non-existent. The California Energy Commission has estimated that coal-fired generation is set to decrease to zero by 2026.  As of 2014, the California Energy Commission estimated that California imported coal from only four out-of-state coal-fired facilities.  And by the end of 2016, coal-fired generators accounted for less than 6 percent of the energy used to power California, with about 97 percent of this coal-related energy generated by power plants located outside California.

So why the need for AB 79?

AB 79 has been introduced at a time when many Californians are uncertain whether national policies and trends under the incoming Trump administration – which plans to encourage more coal production and use nationally – could negatively impact California’s progress to address climate change.  Accordingly, the intent of AB 79 may be symbolic; it would codify into law California’s commitment to address climate change by eliminating coal-generated energy sources entirely from the grid.  Importantly, the bill would also prohibit all load-serving entities and local publicly owned electric utilities from entering into any financial commitment to procure coal-fired electricity after 2026.

So while the bill does not mark a change in California’s policies with respect to coal-fired power, it does serve to solidify those policies. AB 79 would serve as statutory protection against any future temptation to revert to polluting sources of energy during times of unexpected service interruptions or unprecedented electric demand that may occur with the expansion of the electric vehicles and the electric transportation industry.  And most notably, it is a step toward protecting California’s climate change progress from any national changes in energy policy.