A bill expanding the goals of the California Energy Commission's public-goods program won a unanimous vote from the Assembly Utilities and Communications Committee August 9. SB 1250 by Senate president pro tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) reauthorizes the Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) Program funding to 2012. "This is an incredibly important bill," said CEC chair Jackie Pfannenstiel, noting that it is essential to continue her agency's ongoing and evolving research programs and renewable energy funding. SB 1250 faced no opposition and was backed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as solar, fuel cell, and biomass advocates. Under the amended bill, ratepayer funds infused into the PIER program will extend also to natural gas efficiency plans, technologies to achieve greenhouse gas reductions, commercialization of fuel cells, and other areas. Funding levels were reallocated to avoid providing subsidies to renewables projects that don't need assistance, such as qualifying facilities (QFs), whose payment is based on natural gas prices. According to the bill analysis, of 4,440 MW of projects that have received PIER funds, only about 950 MW of those alternative energy projects will continue to be eligible. The level of subsidies that will be available to existing biomass facilities is in flux. It will be between 1 and 19 percent of available renewables funds. New biomass projects, as well as other renewables facilities, that sign contracts with investor-owned utilities and exceed the market benchmark price set by the California Public Utilities Commission will be able to tap into the Supplemental Energy Payment funds. The bill by former Assemblymember Byron Sher (D-Palo Alto) that had previously extended the life of the program through 2011 required legislative action to continue funding after 2007. Electric utility ratepayers pay about $63.5 million a year into the program and natural gas customers another $12 million annually. The bill heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.