Don’t mess with Jerry Brown when it comes to solar. The man they called Governor Moonbeam in his first go-round as governor of California recently hosted a conference at UCLA intended to figure out how to get the state to a whopping 12,000 megawatts (MW) of distributed renewable power generation – solar power, basically – by 2020. And Brown, recalling his stint as mayor of Oakland, made it clear he wants to barge through the thicket of local rules and regulations that can slow down installations.
“Our system of participation is such that any old fool can object to anything,” Brown said. “Restricting participation is very difficult – it has the feel of (being) undemocratic. And yet, if you allow every person, however benighted, to play a role, you never get anything done. In Oakland I learned that some opposition you have to crush. You can talk a little bit, but at the end of the day, you have to move forward. And California needs to move forward with renewable energy.”
Brown is backing utility-scale solar development in the state – in late July he filed a brief opposing a suit by environmentalists trying to block the 370-MW capacity Ivanpah plant in the Mojave Desert. But California sees that sort of centralized production comprising just 40 percent of the solar it’s seeking by the end of the decade, with the rest coming from rooftop systems on businesses and homes throughout the state.
Advocates at the conference touted the inherent security of distributed solar, where a particular system failure has minimal impact, and said it can also be more efficient than the giant developments, which require transmission that is expensive and reduces efficiency. But while Brown foresees distributed producing the lion’s share of the state’s solar power, his focus was on pushing the state to simply take advantage of what might be its most abundant resource.
“Whatever amount of oil they have over there in Texas, we have a hell of a lot more sun right here in California,” Brown said. “The sun is more abundant, more powerful and capable of generating more power. We are spending, we Americans, hundreds of billions of dollars on importing foreign oil that could all go back into our economy if we had domestic energy sources.”