Gov.’s Bully Pulpit Revives 33% Renewables Mandate

By Published On: November 21, 2008

Almost two weeks after state voters rejected an initiative to require that half the power in the state be produced by renewable energy, the governor announced he is pushing a bill requiring that one-third of California’s electricity come from alternative energy by 2020. Power imported from the western grid could count towards the state mandate under the first cut of the measure. “This is the most aggressive target in the nation,” Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said November 17 standing in the bright sun next to a large photovoltaic plant in Sacramento. “Raising the bar is absolutely necessary to reaching our greenhouse gas reduction target under AB 32.” The state climate protection law, AB 32, requires that carbon emissions be cut to 1990 levels by 2020, with at least 40 percent of the emissions reductions coming from electric utilities. Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), the new Senate President pro Tem, applauded the governor, saying he would strive to get his 33 percent renewable bill passed within the first 90 days of the legislative session that begins this January. “2009 will be a great and productive session,” Steinberg said. The governor acknowledged that there are many challenges to reaching this mandate, including that investor-owned utilities are “still struggling” to meet the 20 percent renewable bar set for 2010. Legislation upping the quantity of utilities’ renewable portfolios hasn’t fared well in the past. Bills to mandate one-third of the electrical juice supplied by private and public utilities come from solar, wind, and other non-fossil resources, as urged by policy makers, have failed in the last several legislative sessions. In spite of that, the governor and others emphasized that higher levels of renewable energy will create jobs and help the struggling economy. “Let’s be honest, I think our economy needs a little shot in the arm right now,” Schwarzenegger said. The state chief, along with many lawmakers and regulators, opposed Proposition 7 on the November 4 ballot. That measure would have mandated that 50 percent of power supplies come from solar, wind, and other non-fossil fueled plants by 2025. While the governor called for a higher renewable standard, it will only come to fruition if legislation he supports passes the Assembly and Senate. The only concrete effect of his November 17 action is an executive order to speed up the siting and permitting for renewable projects in the state. His executive order requires the California Energy Commission and the Department Fish and Game, which is responsible for species and habitat protection, to consolidate the permitting process for renewable projects. A joint agency “one stop permitting center” is to be created by a joint agency Renewable Energy Action Team In addition, these agencies along with the California Public Utilities Commission and grid operator, are directed to work with the Renewable Transmission Initiative Group (RETI) to identify the most desirable renewable regions. A little over a week ago, RETI released a draft list ranking potential renewable regions in and outside the state--with most in Southern California (Circuit, Nov. 7, 2008). RETI is made up of a diverse range of stakeholders, including representatives of state energy agencies, federal entities, the military, munis, renewable and environmental organizations. State and federal agencies, including the Energy Commission, wildlife agencies, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), also signed a memorandum of understanding in which they agreed to work together to accelerate the renewable permitting process. BLM manages on the public’s behalf thousands of acres of potentially rich solar and wind sites. It has received a flood of applications for renewable permits, particularly in the Mojave and Colorado Desert regions. Legislation creating the 20 percent renewable portfolio standard was enacted in 2002. The most recent attempt to raise the standard to 33 percent failed in late summer. The unnumbered bill by former Senate President pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) was waylaid by the protracted state budget battle (Circuit, Aug. 22, 2008). The year before, investor-owned utilities protested the bill seeking more renewable energy because they insisted municipal utilities should also be on the renewable energy hook.

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