The Obama administration's announcement Monday of sweeping new rules aimed at curbing global warming emissions from power plants could boost profits at Silicon Valley companies that make solar panels, energy efficiency software and other clean technology.

And California should have an easier time complying than other parts of the country, since it already has done more than any other state to boost renewable energy and cut fossil fuel use by industries.

That was the early consensus by experts Monday afternoon, hours after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveiled new draft regulations that require a dramatic 30 percent reduction nationally in greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

"California is ahead of the curve. That's clear," said James Sweeney, a professor of engineering and director of the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University. "The gnashing of the teeth will come mostly in other states."

The proposal is arguably the most far-reaching action ever taken by the federal government on climate change. Scheduled to be finalized next year, it is certain to face lawsuits from industry.

The rules -- a centerpiece of Obama's environmental legacy -- are expected to significantly reduce demand for coal in the coming years while increasing demand for electricity from sources that emit less carbon pollution, such as natural gas, nuclear, wind and solar.


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"The cost of solar has come down, and coal-fired generation will be retired," said Tom Werner, the CEO of SunPower, a solar panel maker in San Jose. "So the potential for solar to fill in the gap is huge."

The head of Silicon Valley's largest business organization agreed.

"The EPA's proposed carbon-reduction rules are great for ingenuity, entrepreneurship and our economy," said Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino.

Roughly 40 percent of U.S. electricity comes from coal, a leading source of greenhouse gases.

But California has no major power plants that run on coal, the result of 50 years of regulations designed to reduce another major air pollutant -- smog.

Instead, roughly 61 percent of the electricity generated in California comes from natural gas, while 15 percent comes from renewable energy, 14 percent from hydro-electric power, and the rest from nuclear power and other sources.

Over the past decade, California has passed landmark clean energy laws. Most recently, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law requiring 33 percent of the state's electricity to come from renewable energy by 2020. The largest solar plant in the world, a $2 billion facility in the Mojave Desert at Ivanpah, was completed last year.

Previously, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approved the "million solar roofs initiative" to provide incentives to homeowners and businesses that install solar panels. And most notably, in 2006, he signed AB 32 to reduce greenhouse gases. The law set up a cap-and-trade market in which polluting companies can buy and sell carbon credits to each other to meet state-specified targets.

As a result, California has cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants 16 percent since 2005 already and is on pace for a 25 percent reduction by 2025.

"We're feeling quite comfortable that we're on the right path and that we'll be set to hit the 2030 (federal) target with the programs that we've already put in place," said Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board.

But in states that are heavily reliant on coal, such as Kentucky and Wyoming, political leaders vehemently attacked the new rules.

"By imposing these draconian new rules on the nation's coal industry, President Obama and every other liberal lawmaker in Washington who quietly supports them is also picking regional favorites, helping their political supporters in states like California and New York while inflicting acute pain on states like Kentucky," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

Environmentalists said the reductions are long overdue.

"Extreme weather and the costs to Americans' health and wallets will only worsen unless we act," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, based in San Francisco.

The vast majority of the world's scientists -- including those at NOAA, NASA, the National Academy of Sciences and the World Meteorological Organization -- say the Earth's temperature is rising because of humans burning fossil fuels like oil and coal.

Impacts are already being felt. Since the 1880s, when modern temperature records were first taken, the 10 hottest years have all occurred since 1998. Polar ice has melted, forest fires are burning in the West with increasing frequency, and the ocean has risen 8 inches since 1900 at the Golden Gate.

Under the EPA's proposed rule, states will be given varying targets for greenhouse gas reductions, based on their types of power plants.

Each state must draft plans by June 30, 2016, spelling out how it will meet the target. Some of the options allowed are increasing renewable or nuclear energy; retiring old, heavily polluting coal plants; improving transmission lines; offering rebates to consumers for energy efficiency; and creating pollution trading programs.

"States, cities and business have already blazed this trail," said EPA administrator Gina McCarthy. "We are not doing cutting-edge work here, folks, we are opening the door for the clean energy revolution to happen."

The EPA estimated the rule will cost between $7.3 billion and $8.8 billion a year, but will save between $55 billion and $93 billion by 2030 due to reduced medical costs because burning less coal and oil reduces soot and other pollutants associated with asthma, heart disease and emphysema.

For half a century, California has led the nation in passing air pollution rules. It was the first to ban leaded gasoline, reduce sulfur from diesel fuel, curb smokestack emissions and most recently in imposing greenhouse gas limits in 2006.

Nichols said other Western states, starting with Oregon and Washington, may join California's cap-and-trade market now.

"EPA's proposal today builds on decades of California leadership on clean air and energy efficiency," she said. "When the rule becomes final, residents of other states will benefit from that."

Staff writer Dana Hull contributed to this report. Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/PaulRogersSJMN.