Sacramento Sets the Pace for Clean Energy in California With a 2030 Zero Carbon Plan

Yesterday evening, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) voted unanimously to adopt its 2030 Zero Carbon Plan, putting one of the largest public utilities in the country on a pathway to building an affordable and reliable electric system powered by clean, renewable energy. One of the highlights of the plan is the retirement of all of its gas powered plants by 2030. This comes on the heels of the momentum created by publicly-owned utilities in California to finalize concrete plans that phase out fossil fuels in their local communities, and with President Biden’s plan to achieve 100% clean energy nationally by 2035.

SMUD is the first Northern California utility to adopt one of the most ambitious zero carbon plans in the country, looking to achieve 100% clean energy by 2030, with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Glendale Water and Power looking to achieve similar ambitious goals of 90% clean energy by 2030 and 100% by 2035.

What SMUD adopted is both inspiring and achievable. Their plan was formulated soon after  July 2020 when SMUD declared a climate emergency to address the devastating climate impacts that the Sacramento region, and all of California, sustained over the last few years, with last year being most worrisome.  We have often seen climate emergency declarations adopted by entities with little to no follow through. SMUD, however, took a different approach - as soon as the declaration was made, SMUD put words into action by convening a diverse group of stakeholders and collaboratively prepared a plan to meet the moment that the climate emergency demands, while still balancing the need for affordable and reliable electric service for everyone in the community.

 It’s worth noting that setting ambitious goals in conjunction with environmental leadership is not new for SMUD. SMUD not only became the first large utility in the state to serve its customers with 20% renewable energy, but had also established a goal for net zero emissions by 2040. With this updated Zero Carbon Plan, SMUD took a bold step toward accelerating its target a decade earlier, and achieving a zero carbon future that avoids offsets.

Graph from SMUD 2030 Zero Carbon Plan

To achieve zero carbon by 2030, SMUD will be constructing more clean energy in the next decade, retiring its entire local gas fleet that makes up a huge piece of SMUD’s current portfolio, while fostering measurable public health and economic benefits in the region. This means that with the retirement of 1,103 MW (MWs) of local gas capacity, SMUD will be building at least 3,000 MWs of power produced by solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources, storing that clean power in batteries to be used during the evening, and researching emerging, clean energy technologies. As shown in the figure below, SMUD will need to double its existing energy portfolio in order to completely phase out fossil fuels and achieve a zero carbon future.


Graph from SMUD 2030 Zero Carbon Plan

More importantly, as it weans itself off of its local power plants, SMUD is implementing an orderly transition that would prioritize environmental justice communities first by retiring two gas plants located in environmental justice communities by 2025: McClellan, a 72 MW gas plant, in 2024 and Campbell, a 178 MW gas plant.

Yesterday’s victory is a high point following years of campaigning, during which the Sierra Club led, to cultivate strong support at SMUD for leading on climate action. The Club is proud to have supported strong leaders that are willing to utilize their expertise for creative management of complex issues resulting in a team that works well with staff and the public to move a bold plan such as this forward. 

Climate change is one of the most pressing problems we face today, and we applaud SMUD for putting their entire gas fleet on a pathway for retirement by 2030, and investing in clean energy resources that will foster great economic and health benefits to everyone in the region.This is the moonshot of our generation and we look forward to being a partner with SMUD in leading California and the nation to a future powered entirely by clean energy.