In 2006, the California Legislature solidified this state’s position as a leader in fighting climate change by capping greenhouse gas emissions with a law set to go into effect this year.
Last week, California took perhaps the most significant step since 2006 toward a sustainable future for the Bear Flag Republic by passing Proposition 39, or the Clean Energy Jobs Act, with more than 60 percent of the vote.
Much ground is left to cover, however, to ensure that the $2.5 billion the measure earmarks for energy efficiency creates the maximum possible benefit, both economically and environmentally.
The proposition, once it takes effect, will close a tax loophole on out-of-state corporations and spend the resulting funds ““ $550 million annually ““ on projects to shore up the efficiency of public buildings and fund job creation in the clean energy sector.
To maximize the impact of that money, it is integral that at least a portion of the funds be set aside for the research and implementation of innovative energy technologies.
And what better way to bankroll innovation than to funnel some of the funds into California’s premier research institutions such as UCLA?
As it stands, the measure outlines three ways the money will be used to create jobs and promote energy efficiency: job training, efficiency retrofits for public buildings and public-private partnerships.
It is this last category that holds the most promise for securing California’s energy future.
Currently, the Luskin Center for Innovation is conducting research into how best to structure these partnerships.
While no findings have been released yet, Colleen Callahan, deputy director of the Luskin Center, said that legislation regarding the implementation and administration of Proposition 39 will be drafted before the measure goes into effect.
For the sake of California’s status as a leader in energy and climate change, it is instrumental that such legislation provide a comprehensive strategy to fund cooperation between the UC and the private sector.
The other two categories of energy projects, while noble and ultimately necessary, are limited in scope to what can be accomplished in the five years of Proposition 39 funding. Technological innovation, on the other hand, can bear fruit for years to come.
Moreover, institutions such as UCLA are placed perfectly to spur such innovation.
Brendan Rauw, associate vice chancellor for research and executive director of entrepreneurship, said that in recent years, much research previously conducted in the private sector has migrated to publicly funded institutions.
For that reason, UCLA is well-positioned to provide an integral service to California employers.
“If you’re looking for innovative and foundational research, universities are a good place to start,” Rauw said.
In the area of clean energy and energy efficiency, UCLA is currently engaged in the type of research that can provide long-lasting benefits.
Research centers at UCLA such as the Center for Energy Science and Technology Advanced Research, the Smart Grid Energy Research Center and the Clean Energy Research Center are already generating new technologies that can pave the way to energy innovation and economic growth.
What remains to be done, and what Proposition 39 must accomplish, is to finance the public-private cooperation required to make those new technologies cost-effective and marketable.
In this effort, California might take a hint from the National Science Foundation’s cadre of Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers, which, as the name suggests, partner public research with private industry to streamline the transfer of technology and information.
Several such cooperative research centers are currently in operation at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis.
However they choose to do it, the legislators and policy leaders that put Proposition 39 into effect must heavily consider involving UCLA and other UCs in the implementation of the measure and as partners in California’s sustainable future.
With this state’s economic and environmental future at stake, California can afford nothing less.
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