By Tom Schmitz
With climate policy leadership at the federal level no longer a given, the nation is “at a pivotal moment” in the push for a clean energy economy — one where California’s success will prove critical in showing the way forward.
That was the message PG&E Corporation CEO and President Geisha Williams delivered in a keynote address to the Ceres conference in San Francisco, where more than 600 business leaders gathered to share perspectives on sustainability issues and climate change.
Williams told the group that with the change of administrations in Washington, D.C., and new questions about whether the United States will remain party to the 2015 Paris climate accords, “the world is watching what happens in California, more than ever. And California has left no question that it is embracing that leadership role and moving full speed ahead.”
Likewise, PG&E understands “that as a California energy company, we have a unique ability to make an impact.”
“We are all-in on finding solutions,” she said. “We’re absolutely committed to being a clean energy leader and a champion for the goals that California is driving toward.”
Yet Williams also pointed out that as much as California and PG&E have already accomplished, some of the hardest work lies ahead. So what policy measures are needed to meet the next round of challenges?
Williams pointed to three key areas:
- A “north star” focus on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions;
- Large-scale investments in building a more dynamic and resilient electric grid; and
- Ensuring that the benefits of a clean-energy future are shared equitably across the entire social and economic spectrum.
Creating broad policy goals designed to cut carbon as rapidly as possible, rather than choosing among the technologies for getting there, “flows directly from both the spirit and letter of the Paris agreement,” Williams said. “We need to give companies and consumers the freedom to find the most viable options, maximize innovation, and provide the best value.”
The most powerful tool for doing that, she argued, is the electric grid.
“The modern grid is what really allows a company like PG&E to shift from being an energy provider, to being a climate solutions company,” Williams said. With a smarter, more dynamic grid, “we have an enabling platform for deep decarbonization.”
With PG&E’s energy supply now nearly 70 percent greenhouse-gas free, the next big opportunity is to use the grid to electrify the transportation sector.
Cars, trucks, and other vehicles now account for the largest share of carbon emissions in California, at about 40 percent of the total, Williams noted. “We can’t solve the climate equation if we don’t address this challenge.”
However, those gains cannot come at the expense of PG&E’s commitment to serve the interests of all customers, including those who have trouble paying their bills and whose primary concern is cost.
A clean energy economy “is not sustainable if it’s not affordable,” Williams said.
“We have a responsibility to be there for all of the 16 million people who live in our service area. … So, as we invest in the clean energy future, we have to do so in a way that works for all of our customers and that also provides them with opportunities.”
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.