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The Clean Energy Trend in California


Four big developments reflected in this chart: the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, the impact of the drought, and the rise of both solar and wind.

Output at San Onofre bounced around in the ten years before it shut down in 2012 – it hit a high of 18,399,596 megawatt hours in 2005 and then sunk to a low the next year, at 13,567,626 MWh. The average over the period was 16,332,433 MWh, about 8 percent of California’s in-state energy generation. So you can see what an emissions-free energy loss the plant’s closure was for the state. But it’s gone, gone, gone, and nothing’s gonna bring it back.

Hydroelectric is a different story, its decline a product purely of the drought. In the decade before the drought began, the state on average got nearly 17 percent of its in-state generation from hydro. In 2015, hydro’s share was 7 percent, so you could say the drought cost California 10 percent of its clean energy generation.

Solar and wind have made up for some of these losses. Wind grew substantially up to 2013 and has been stable at around 6 percent of generation since then (despite the “wind drought” of the first half of 2015), while solar, still on the move, climbed to about 10 percent of generation in 2015, from just 0.2 percent a decade before.

This year, 2016, should see a pretty hefty jump in clean-energy generation in California as wind ticks up slightly, solar continues to surge and, with a decent Sierra snowpack in place, hydropower recovers at least somewhat.