California sets goal to phase out fossil fuels for electricity by 2045, governor says

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California has set a goal of phasing out electricity produced by fossil fuels by 2045 under legislation signed today by Governor Jerry Brown, who said the policy should serve as a model for other states and nations.

Mr Brown, who has positioned California as a global leader in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, approved the measure as he prepares to host a summit in San Francisco of climate change leaders from around the world starting Thursday.

The new law, along with an executive order Mr Brown signed directing California to take as much carbon dioxide out of the air as it emits, represent the latest in a string of ambitious environmental initiatives as California seeks to fill a void left by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord and his efforts to boost the coal industry.

“We want others to do likewise, and if enough people often enough do what is needed we will curb global warming,” Mr Brown said during an interview with The Associated Press. “But we’re definitely at the beginning of what’s going to be a long and difficult and contentious journey.”

The state is pushing to rapidly expand adoption of electric vehicles and has created a “cap and trade” program to put a price on carbon emissions, creating incentives to reduce them. It’s working toward a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent over the next 12 years.

The efforts have drawn criticism from business groups worried about rising electric bills. Some environmentalists say the California governor is too cozy with oil and gas interests and plan to disrupt the San Francisco summit.

The renewable energy measure would require California’s utilities to generate 60 per cent of their energy from wind, solar and other specific renewable sources by 2030. That’s 10 per cent higher than the current mandate.

The goal would then be to use only carbon-free sources to generate electricity by 2045. It’s merely a goal, with no mandate or penalty for falling short. California’s renewable energy goal is not as ambitious as Hawaii, which has adopted a 100 per cent renewable energy mandate.

Phasing out fossil fuels would be a massive change in the energy grid. Utilities rely on natural gas plants to meet demand when renewables fall short, particularly in the early evening when the sun sets and people turn on their air conditioners as they get home from work.

Utilities are already dealing with an abundance of solar energy during peak times, which must be offloaded to other states when there’s not enough demand locally for the power.

Mr Brown advocates for a regional energy grid that would more easily allow Western states to share energy. An effort he pushed has died the past two years in the Legislature, with critics arguing California shouldn’t be part of a grid with states that rely on coal. But Brown today said moving toward a regional grid is essential to achieving California’s new 100 per cent clean energy goal without sending electric prices skyrocketing.

“Those who don’t want it are going to be foisting very high prices on California, and I think there will be resistance to that,” he said. “It may take one or two years, but we’re going to get there. It makes too much sense.”

He also pointed to the need for better battery technology to store energy.

Renewable energy experts have looked to batteries that can store solar energy generated in the afternoon as one solution, but the technology is not ready for wide-scale deployment. Another potential solution is pumped storage, in which water is pumped uphill in the afternoon using solar energy and then released through hydroelectric generators after the sun sets.

Mr Brown has often faced criticism that he’s too lenient with the oil industry, including from environmental groups pushing him to create a moratorium on new oil and gas wells in the state. He rejected the criticism and said that California’s approach to climate change relies on curbing emissions from a variety of sources, including oil.

California has nearly 54,000 active wells, some of them close to urbanized areas in Southern California and the Central Valley, according to state data.

California ranked sixth among states in crude oil production in May, the latest data available from the US Energy Information Administration. The state ranks 15th in natural gas production. California’s production of crude oil has fallen steadily since the mid-1980s.

Business groups also opposed the measure amid concerns that it would raise the price of energy and, together with California’s other environmental and labor protections, make it hard to compete with firms in other states.

“If we’re going to have these first-in-the-nation laws, we want to see first-in-the-nation benefits,” said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable.

The measure was written by state Senator Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat who is running for US Senate against fellow Democratic US Senator Dianne Feinstein.

“Today we’re setting a marker that will be remembered by future generations,” Mr de Leon said.

The companion executive order Brown signed directs the state to achieve “carbon neutrality” by no later than 2045. After that, he says the state should emit net negative greenhouse gas emissions.

The order directs several state agencies to set targets for artificially removing carbon dioxide from the air through a process known as “sequestration.”

That could involve restoring forests and wetlands to use plants to consume carbon dioxide or new technologies that capture carbon dioxide, compress it and inject it into the ground.

An Afghan official says at least 20 people were killed when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-filled vest among a group of people protesting a local police commander in eastern Nangarhar province.

General Ghulam Sanayee Stanikzai, provincial police chief, says dozens of people from Achin district had come to the Momandara district to block the main highway between the capital Jalalabad and the Torkham border with Pakistan.

Stanikzai says locals had gathered to complain against a local police commander and the suicide bomber targeted them. It was unclear whether the attacker knew the nature of the protest.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but both Taliban insurgents and the Islamic State group are active in eastern Afghanistan, especially in Nangarhar province.

With mandatory evacuations already issued for parts of three East Coast states, millions of Americans are preparing for what could become one of the most catastrophic hurricanes to hit the Eastern Seaboard in decades.

Carrying winds of up to 220 km/h as a Category 4 storm, Hurricane Florence is expected to strengthen and become a Category 5 storm on Tuesday (Weds NZT). 

It’s then forecast to close in on North or South Carolina on Thursday local time, hitting a stretch of coastline that’s vulnerable to rising sea levels due to climate change.

“Please be prepared, be careful and be SAFE!” President Donald Trump tweeted Monday evening.

South Carolina’s governor ordered the state’s entire coastline to be evacuated starting at noon Tuesday and predicted that one million people would flee. And Virginia’s governor ordered a mandatory evacuation for some residents of low-lying coastal areas, while some coastal counties in North Carolina have done the same.

The storm’s first effects were already apparent on barrier islands as dangerous rip currents hit beaches and seawater flowed over a state highway.

For many people, the challenge could be finding a safe refuge: If Florence slows to a crawl just off the coast, it could bring torrential rains to the Appalachian mountains and as far away as West Virginia, causing flash floods, mudslides and other dangerous conditions.

The storm’s potential path also includes half a dozen nuclear power plants, pits holding coal-ash and other industrial waste, and numerous hog farms that store animal waste in massive open-air lagoons.

Airlines, including American and Southwest, have started letting passengers change travel plans that take them into the hurricane’s possible path.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned that Florence was forecast to linger over the Carolinas once it reaches shore. People living well inland should prepare to lose power and endure flooding and other hazards, he warned.

“It’s not just the coast,” Mr Graham said. “When you stall a system like this and it moves real slow, some of that rainfall can extend well away from the center.”

A warm ocean is the fuel that powers hurricanes, and Florence will be moving over waters where temperatures are peaking near 30 degrees Celsius, hurricane specialist Eric Blake wrote. And with little wind shear to pull the storm apart, Florence’s hurricane wind field was expected to expand over the coming days, increasing its storm surge and inland wind threats.

By 11pm Monday (Tues afternoon NZT), Florence was centered about 1,745 kilometres east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and moving west at 20 km/h. Its centre will move between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday and approach the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said.

Two other storms were spinning in the Atlantic. Hurricane Isaac was expected to lose strength as it reaches the Caribbean, and Helene, much farther out to sea, may veer northward into the open ocean as the 2018 hurricane season reaches its peak.

In the Pacific, Hurricane Olivia triggered warnings for multiple Hawaiian islands as it blew west toward an arrival over the state as soon as late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Preparations for Florence were intensifying up and down the densely populated coast. Since reliable record-keeping began more than 150 years ago, North Carolina has been hit by only one Category 4 hurricane: Hazel, with 130 mph winds, in 1954.

Several meteorologists said Florence could do what Hurricane Harvey did last year over Texas, dumping days of rain, although not quite as bad.

Two teenage boys have drowned in Perth’s Swan River and there are fears for a third boy who’s still missing after four teenagers jumped into the water to evade police.

The foot chase began mid-afternoon yesterday when officers responded to reports of five teenagers jumping fences in Maylands.

Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said four boys were seen jumping into the water.

Two were spotted struggling in very deep and murky water in the middle of the river and officers swam out in a rescue attempt but were unable to reach them before they went under.

“Police did not physically come into contact with the two boys who disappeared under water in the middle of the river,” Mr Dawson told reporters.

Police divers found the first body in low visibility – estimated at 10cm in front of their face – just before 9pm.

The second body was recovered about 10am today.

“This is nothing short of a tragedy,” Mr Dawson said. “The loss of any young life is an absolute tragedy.”

Two other boys were captured, treated by paramedics and given dry clothes, then taken into custody and reunited with their families.

Mr Dawson said there were concerns for the fifth boy, who was last seen running along the riverbank and it’s feared he may also have gone into the water.

He described the search for him as urgent. The two survivors have not been charged with any offences at this stage.

Mr Dawson urged the missing boy’s family and associates to advise police of his welfare and not worry about him potentially being in trouble.

“We just want to know if he’s safe,” he said. “Any matters concerning offending need to be put squarely to one side.

“We are hopeful that he did not enter the river.”

The commissioner said the deaths would be subject to an inquest and called on members of the public to provide any information or CCTV footage that may aid the investigation.

All of the boys were under 18 and police declined to release more details at the request of their families.

Shares in a Canada-based mining company soared today after it announced it had struck a mother lode of gold in Australia.

RNC Minerals stocks rose 94.4 per cent on the news in trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The company said its miners discovered rocks embedded with approximately 9,250 ounces of high grade gold at its Beta Hunt nickel mine in Kambalda, about 630 kilometres east of Perth.

A geologist at the mine equated the “phenomenal” discovery with a once-in-a-lifetime occurence.

The boulders were found about 500 metres underground, with the largest weighing 95 kilograms and containing an estimated 2,440 ounces of gold.

Another rock, weighing 63 kilograms, contained about 1,620 ounces of gold, RNC said.

The miner credited with the discovery said that when he planted explosive charges in the mine walls, he had no idea that the blast would unveil the hidden treasure.

Once the coarse gold has been processed and sold, it is thought RNC will be around 15 million Canadian dollars (11.4 million US dollars) better off.

The company had planned to sell off the mine, but said it was now re-evaluating its options.

Security has been tightened at the mine, with workers under video surveillance and the area where the gold was found fenced off and locked, according to local media reports.

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