Distributed Renewables in 12,000 MW Pipeline

By Published On: October 7, 2011

What energy technologies will count towards the governor’s goal of 12,000 MW of non- centralized renewables is in flux, but it won’t include cogeneration facilities or energy storage projects, said Cliff Rechtschaffen, Gov. Jerry Brown’s senior energy advisor. Mike Peevey, California Public Utilities Commission president, called the 12,000 MW goal for distributed renewable generation by 2020 “a pipedream.” Peevey added that the goal was attainable only if it includes the expected 3,000 MW of small solar projects subsidized by the California Solar Initiative. To date, 1,000 MW have been installed. It also should include the 1,000 MW of distributed small solar projects the investor-owned utilities are planning to build. Rechtshaffen agreed that those 4,000 MW of solar projects would probably count towards the 12,000 MW target. The governor’s representative also said the distributed generation goal includes 2,500 MW of distributed solar projects on state properties, primarily along the freeways but also on prison roofs. Solar, wind, and other established renewable distributed generation 20 MW or less will qualify, explained Rechtschaffen. Whether the 33 percent alternative energy standard incorporates or excludes the 12,000 MW of distributed generation target remains to be seen, he said. He and California Energy Commission member Carla Peterman said during an Independent Energy Producers conference this week that with distributed generation the governor is seeking to bypass roadblocks faced by big renewable energy projects, including the need to build new transmission lines, the grid operator’s overloaded interconnection queue, and such difficulties as the impacts on wildlife habitat and water supplies. Another big driver for expanding non-centralized alternative power projects is to create local jobs. Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) urged that the trained work force be diverse. However, the cost of thousands of megawatts of smaller decentralized alternative resources remains a big unknown. “It’s not being built because it’s cheap,” said Peterman. “Distributed generation is now customer-driven without consideration to need and distribution impacts.” “The good news is that the price is coming down,” said Rechtshaffen Ultimately, the “renewable auction mechanism” is expected to shine light on how much thousands of megawatts of distributed renewables may cost. In 2010, the CPUC directed the state’s three investor-owned utilities to buy 1,000 MW from smaller distributed renewable generation projects via a competitive auction (Current, Dec. 17, 2010). The resulting renewable auction mechanism is an offshoot of feed-in tariffs, which strive to increase the amount of renewable deals below 20 MW. These tariffs provide standard terms and set long-term, transparent prices between independent producers and private utilities.

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