Bills to Expand Renewable Eligibility Pass

By Published On: April 20, 2012

Legislation to grow in-state landfill and dairy biomethane projects and ensure out-of-state biomethane provides renewable benefits to the state has been the subject of three recent legislative committees. On April 16, the Assembly Utilities & Commerce Committee passed 10-1, AB 1990 by Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Burbank). It allows biomethane deals signed before January 1, 2013, to qualify for credit under the state’s 33 percent renewable power mandate. It is similar to Assemblymember Wes Chesbro’s (D-North Coast) AB 2196 heard in the Natural Resources Committee earlier on Monday (see story above). Chesbro’s measure also overrides the California Energy Commission’s temporary disqualification of biomethane as renewable energy. It passed the Utilities & Commerce Committee last week (Current, April 13). Last March, the Energy Commission suspended renewable certification for new and expanded biomethane projects because of concerns about clean energy gains. Municipal power agencies and others don’t want to lose the renewable credits for their biomethane contracts. A few bills seek to expand renewable resource eligibility. The committee dealt with other bills as follows: AB 2339--Authored Assemblymember Das William (D-Santa Barbara) directs the California Public Utilities Commission to evaluate the costs and benefits of heat pumps and current regulatory barriers. It revises the renewable and energy efficiency incentive rules to extend eligibility to geothermal heat pumps and solar thermal technologies. “Geothermal heat pumps and solar heating and cooling technologies can play an important role in reducing electricity demand and increasing efficiency within the built environment,” Williams said. A key reason these heating and cooling technologies are not included in the alternative energy incentive programs is that they do not produce electricity, according to the bill author. He added that heat pumps involve a technology that doesn’t fit into the current cost effectiveness parameters. It passed 11-1. AB 1771--By Assemblymember David Valadeo (R-Hanford) this bill allows hydropower of any size to qualify as a renewable resource under the state’s one-third alternative power portfolio mandate. Currently, only hydro plants up to 30 MW qualify. Nearly every year since California adopted a renewables mandate, legislation has been introduced to eliminate the hydro size restriction. Opponents warned the bill would destroy the river systems on British Columbia, which have far fewer protections than California water ways. AB 2165--A measure by Assemblymember Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) expands the fuel cell industry. It increases the state-wide net metering cap from 112 MW to 500 MW for local fuel cell installations. “It is needed to provide enough headroom to all clean distributed generation to expand in our state,” Hill said. Proponents and opponents disputed whether net metered customers with fuel cells shift energy costs of other ratepayers. Hill said the small generators pay public purpose charges and connection fees, with payment for the energy receiving the retail rate set for generation fed into the grid. Investor-owned utilities claim that non-generation charges are shifted to other customers. “This is a standard response we hear from utilities and it is not true,” Hill insisted. It passed 10-1 AB 2514--A bill by committee chair Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood) directs the CPUC to study whether to redo how it calculates peak demand when assessing the benefits and costs of net metering. The key issue is the payment rate solar system owners receive for sending power back into the grid varies widely. “It makes no sense,” said Lenny Goldberg, The Utility Reform Network’s lobbyist. The bill worried solar energy advocates, who insisted the bill changes existing rules governing net metering peak demand calculations. “We are changing and diminishing the amount of solar energy that can be calculated,” said Donna Brownsey, Solar Energy Industries Association lobbyist. “The study should go forward but currently laws shouldn’t be changed.” It passed 11-0. AB 2516--By Bradford, this legislation directing the California Independent System Operator to increase reliability and efficiency, passed unanimously. AB 2584--Also by Bradford, this bill sets CPUC record retention requirements for natural disasters, such as storm driven blackouts. It passed 11-0. Two bills failing to pass, but to be reconsidered, are: -AB 1514 by Senator Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach). It calls for increased transparency and data sharing to reduce serious underground pipeline damage and accidents from improper excavations. “The key point is public safety,” said CPUC member Mike Florio. Energy utilities supported the measure but cable and excavation companies balked at new excavation rules, which include giving the CPUC the resources to develop reports on “bad actors” and report the violations to local and state public attorneys. -AB 2234 by Hill expands the size of renewable systems on public buildings, including schools that qualify for the preferential net metering rate. The current size of eligible systems would increase from 1 MW to 5 MW, to “save money, create green jobs and prevent teacher layoffs,” Hill said. The U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard, which are increasing their energy efficiency and renewable resources, asked that their facilities also be covered by the bill.

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